Planting the Natural Garden

Planting the Natural Garden, by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen, book review

Thirty years ago, Oudolf and Gerritsen brought out a book promoting their ‘dream plants’. This new edition, reviewed here by Jonny Bruce, will ensure they continue to inspire

Planting the Natural Garden
by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen
edited by Noel Kingsbury
Timber Press
£26.99
ISBN 978-1604699739

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Dream Plants for the Natural Garden, as it was then called, was one of the first gardening books I encountered. The authors had a simple mission – to promote beautiful yet reliable plants for the natural garden. It quickly became a bible for gardeners interested in a relaxed, ecological approach. The title of this new edition may have lost its dreamy allusion but the core material has undergone only a subtle change.

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It was a great loss to the world of gardening when Henk Gerritsen died in 2008, but his voice is very much present in this book. Although he is far less well-known than Piet Oudolf, his dry wit adds an honest humour to the plant descriptions. A trained ecologist and skilful designer, Gerritsen wrote about plant communities in gardens long before it was fashionable. The first half of the book acts as a directory of plants, while the second shows how to use them – more in design concepts and sparky combinations than full schemes. It is testament to his insight that, in Kingsbury’s words, ‘Henk’s advice has been mostly left untouched’.

The plants have been updated with a number of new cultivars and species. Current planting trends are reflected, with Carex and Baptisia making a good show, while the improved ‘grassy’ section demonstrates how far breeding has come – some deliciously dark molinias and sturdy schizachryiums adding to a diverse mix. Kingsbury has – quite rightly – been sure to credit other voices, such as Roy Diblik and Rick Darke, as pioneers in promoting these remarkable plants which have become the backbone of Oudolf’s practice.

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Not all the plants are photographed as well as they could be, but this a minor detraction from an otherwise beautiful and worthy revision of a garden book classic.