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

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Entries in designing with plants (2)


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.




Piet Oudolf with Noel KIngsbury Write about Designing With Plants: Book Review for

Designing With Plants  Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury, Timber Press

We live in historic times, horticultural, that is. The most forward-looking and inspiring garden designer of the 21st century is Piet Oudolf. Based in the Netherlands but working world wide, he is responsible for a historic shift in the appearance of contemporary landscapes. His work is both riveting and controversial and pushes the boundaries of modernity in the garden. Noel Kingsbury, an eminent garden designer and garden writer, co-wrote this book with Oudolf in 1999 to explain Oudolf’s work to a wider audience. Eleven years later, it is as timely and relevant as it was when it was first published.

The signature of an Oudolf landscape is the deconstruction of the formal garden, reconstituted with influences from the meadow garden. Oudolf had found the formal garden too stifling and the meadow garden too messy. The resulting gardens that he created include design features from both styles that are revolutionary in concept and breathtaking to behold.

Five elements contribute to an Oudolf-style garden: First, is the ruthless and thorough selection of wild or lush looking plants, arranged in formal patterns. Second, is the painterly and architectural role played by flower heads, both blooming and spent, and thirdly, is the deliberate twisting of the axis of symmetry that leads the eye to the ends of the flowerbeds, thereby drawing the viewer deeper into the mood of the garden. Fourth, is the use of ornamental grasses to supply structure to the over all design and lastly, a directive to leave spent perennials uncut during winter, thereby allowing the plants to contribute visual interest all season long. It is Oudolf’s belief that cutting down perennials in winter is absurd. It is no more than rigid folklore with little foundation. Furthermore, he holds that most of what is written about gardening, in the English language, is mere dogma based on principles of safe harmonies. Oudolf encourages gardeners to be adventurous and create their own rules, much in the same way that many American gardeners have been doing for quite some time. According to Kingsbury, perpetuating British gardening traditions reflects a backward looking mentality.

An Oudolf garden begins with a planting palette made up of form, leaves and color. Design schemes are created by combing forms, colors, structure, adding filler plants, grasses and umbellifers. The design is further enhanced with repetition and rhythm. Mood is created with light, movement and harmony. Finally, the year round visual interest of plants from their infancy to their death is another dominant element.

This is not a garden design book for the beginner. It is predicated on an accumulated knowledge of the behavior of perennials and grasses. Some familiarity with traditional styles of garden design will help the reader to appreciate the botanical brilliance that is Piet Ouldolf.

Gardeners that have already attempted medium or large scale garden designs will find these revolutionary ideas easy to understand and moderately challenging to adopt. At the least, they are exciting. Although this reviewer discovered Designing with Plants eleven years after it was published, it has been a worthwhile and mind-expanding experience. No garden designer should remain uninformed about Piet Oudolf.

In addition to reading this book, gardeners who would like to gain an even deeper understanding of Oudolf are recommended to scroll through the blog grounded design written by landscape architect Thomas Reiner. In his posting of April 6, 2010, titled Secrets of the Highline Revealed, Mr. Reiner describes how Oudolf uses a layered matrix planting to achieve his original designs. Mr. Reiner’s explanation enriches Mr. Kingsbury’s book.