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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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A Dissenting Voice From Cyberspace about Piet Oudolf

Piet Oudolf's garden from The Battery Conservancy, thebattery.orgAn email arrived recently from a reader who disagreed with an opinion I posted on my blog, about Piet Oudolf’s Millennium Garden. [A Dutch-Influenced Garden, October 6, 2010] After studying many of Oudolf’s designs in books and magazines, I had come to the conclusion that his style of planting, in matrices of drifts, was too complex for small domestic gardens: I thought his concept would work best in large parkland settings.

Reader Tony Spencer took issue with my opinion. On two occasions he travelled to Hummelo, in The Netherlands to meet Mr. Oudolf. There he learned that this genius garden designer hoped that the public would use his ideas for private home gardens as well.

…..his intention through his books is to inspire gardeners of all stripes to experiment with his ideas and apply them to their own contexts -- whether that's parkland or a small urban plot. It's not just about the grand scale….. 

Piet Oudolf, The Battery ConservancyI must confess that even though I find the Oudolf style daunting to adopt, I have already started experimenting with some of his ideas and have noticed many other gardeners doing the same. Although I do not have opportunities to plant repeating drifts of perennials, I do select some of his favorite plants, leave the dead heads of my perennials uncut, try not to harvest my garden until winter is over, and insert ornamental grasses among perennials.


Mr. Spencer took issue with another aspect of my blog. In that same posting, I drew attention to the color scheme of the Millennium Garden. Mr. Spencer believes that focusing on that aspect is a misunderstanding of the designer intentions. He reported that Oudolf

…was not overly invested in color and…… would never describe any of his gardens in terms of a color scheme.

I find that very fascinating because the British press gives a lot of attention to the colors of his designated flowers. Have I stumbled upon a spawned result of his work that was not anticipated?  

Hummelo, Piet Oudolf Garden: Grass Days, copywrited by Tony Spencer

 After reading his comments, I was curious to know more about Mr. Spencer and took the liberty of asking him some questions. I learned that he too is very talented. During his visits to The Netherlands, he extensively photographed Oudolf’s garden at Hummelo and was inspired to emulate it at his summer home in Kawartha, Ontario. The photos that I have posted here attest to Mr. Spencer's skills both as a photographer and garden designer. His style of flower composition is close to my heart and I hope that, in the future, we will be able to get a better glimpse of his accomplishments both at Hummelo and Kawartha.

Steeple at Kawartha, copywrited by Tony SpencerReceiving his illuminating comments is further proof that cyberspace is not anonymous. The internet has turned out to be a technological marvel that allows garden writers to encounter interesting colleagues who generate engaging dialogue. That is one of the many things that make garden blogging so meaningful.



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Reader Comments (4)

Allan, you have sparked my interest to visit my library again and check out some Piet Oudolf books. I have looked through them previously but instead became fixated on the Tony Lord books because of their sweeping colors.

I do remember that Piet introduced Phlox lBlue Paradise, which is one of my favorites.


November 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEileen

Hello Allan,
Very late to see this post (i.e. years later) but I've just returned from the Netherlands and a closer visit to Hummelo and a design workshop with Piet and Noel. Much more info and photos to come...
BTW: My name is Tony Spencer. Thx for the write-up and you're right, cyberspace is not as anonymous as some might think.

July 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTony Spencer

I just read the Piet Oudolf book with Noel Kingsbury called Planting: A New Perspective. In this book, the authors do point out that the matrix style of planting is not well suited to smaller spaces and most home gardens! The make several caveats while they are arguing against block and drift planting that in small spaces, block and drift designs make a lot of sense! In limited space you need to be more forceful or literal for your design to come across. Without enough space, the natural rhythm of matrix planting can't develop. With that said, I agree that we can still borrow ideas and concepts from Oudolf's large scale plantings and I intend to do so myself.

February 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAlex Kahn

There's a whole movement of new perennial gardeners inspired by Piet's ideas who are trying out different approaches in their own home gardens.
As Piet himself says, "There are no rules." I think you may have misunderstood slightly because you can absolutely take elements of matrix planting and apply them to a residential scale garden. And also combine matrix with block planting in the same design. If you're curious, look at for more info.

February 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTony Spencer

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