Piet Oudolf: discover the Dutch master
In this edited extract from new book Piet Oudolf at Work, we share some of the insightful essays by those who have worked with, and been inspired by the Dutch master
Throughout a long career, Dutch master Piet Oudolf has created many show-stopping landscapes and is still developing lush perennial schemes around the world. His legacy is celebrated in a new book, with insightful essays by those who have worked with, and been inspired by, him, alongside a selection of his intricate planting plans.
Piet Oudolf at Work (Phaidon, £59.95) Use code PIET20 for 20 per cent off the book on Phaidon.com. Valid until 31st August 2023.
Piet Oudolf at Work
Director of Hermannshof garden, Germany
Piet’s planting plans and plant lists are not secret, unlike with most other designers; he publishes them both in books and online. Piet is surprisingly relaxed about the possibility that others might copy him, saying they are welcome to do so. But by the time any given design has been completed, Piet has long since moved on in his creative thoughts and visions, and never reuses exactly the same combination of plants. His real achievement is in elevating the work of designing with plants to a whole new level. He has brought perennials back into the consciousness of landscape architecture. Renowned garden designers are now being valued increasingly for their specialist knowledge, and are even being brought in on high-profile projects and accepted as equal partners among architects. Even galleries and museums have come to value plants as a design tool for their outdoor areas or even to include them directly in art projects, as at the Venice Biennale. This has all helped to elevate an Oudolf planting design to a work of art, one that can stand on its own, as opposed to serving as an accessory or mere decoration. Piet Oudolf has thus succeeded in emancipating planting design as an art form in its own right, bringing it out of its niche and on to the big stage.
Gardener and writer
Piet’s contagious enthusiasm reflects his experience and the generosity he has received, and is a legacy as important as the plants themselves. Certainly, walking with Piet in his garden is never a passive experience: as he runs his hands through the grasses overhanging the paths, he directs your attention to some uniquely beautiful seedhead before raising his phone to capture it. “There are still so many plants to discover,” Piet says, with characteristic enthusiasm. It was always a pleasant surprise on taking Piet and his wife Anja a box of plants to hear the words, “I haven’t grown that before”, and to think that our conversations were finding their place alongside those of Henk Gerritsen, Roy Diblik, Rob Leopold and the countless other gardeners who have informed this rare garden. It is in this way that one can best understand Piet Oudolf, for as he says: “My relationship to plants is through people.”
Plantsman and garden writer.
The vast majority of people who know Piet’s work are familiar with it from arrays of massed perennials and grasses. To create these plantings, he sketches and draws his designs using plans that until now have been seen only by a minority of his admirers. So striking are these plans – done with coloured pencils, felt-tip pens and markers, and using a dense language of annotation, including dots, dashes, spirals and squiggles – they have become accepted as artworks in their own right. The plans are, in a way, representative of the creative process of an artist – a process that is next to impossible to explain, in part because the routes of the design method are many and may vary greatly from one project to another. Inevitably, given the transitory nature of gardens in general, and of perennial-based planting schemes in particular, these places will change over time, often dramatically. The plans at least will preserve their originator’s thoughts and intentions for posterity. Looking at Piet’s planting in the broad sweep of history, it can perhaps be best understood as representing a stylisation of nature, much as the highly influential landscape movement of 18th-century England created a highly structured representation of the natural world. Much as it went on to stimulate a very wide range of design styles, we can speculate that Oudolf planting will also have a major and continuing influence on the nature-inspired planting of the future.
Former Gardens Illustrated editor, who commissioned Piet’s Best in Show garden (designed in collaboration with Arne Maynard) for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, 2000.
Most garden designers work in multi-disciplinary practices, but Piet has always preferred to work alone in his studio, collaborating externally with teams of multi-skilled professionals. Like all gardeners, he believes to share is to multiply. “The public projects allow me to share my work with a large number of people, while the private gardens are, well, private,” he says. He likes to think that all his gardens are a promise for the future, and “like a good marriage,” he says, “I want my planting designs to work together as they age.” Piet has become the leading figure in a movement that promotes a more natural and resilient approach to urban landscape design. His understanding of how plants behave in different soils and climates makes his designs both distinctive and sustainable. As the gardening writer and historian Tim Richardson says, “Piet is an original thinker and a proselytiser for an attitude to planting rather than a ‘look’.” His work embraces and accepts the natural process of the life and death of plants and recognises how plants adapt to change, which is something we will all have to do if humankind is to preserve a peaceful and sustainable way of life in the future.
BUY THE BOOK
This edited extract is taken from the new book, Piet Oudolf at Work (Phaidon, £59.95). Written in close collaboration with Piet, this beautifully illustrated book offers a fresh insight into Piet’s creative practice, showcasing many of his well-known gardens – from New York’s acclaimed High Line to the newly planted Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany.
Use code PIET20 for 20 per cent off the book on Phaidon.com. Valid until 31st August 2023.
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