One of the highlights of my career was meeting Piet Oudolf at his home in Holland. I’d long been an admirer of his nature-inspired style, but this was my first chance to see his garden in person. At first the landscape appeared very natural as if the plants had sprung up on their own, but on closer inspection I saw the thought behind the design. The garden was enclosed by an undulating hedge that both carried the eye and gave the space a sense of order. Piet used principles such as repetition, contrasting textures and focal points to create a compelling vista.
When I met Piet in the U.S. he invited me to visit his home in Holland and I gladly took up the offer.
In this photo you can see a few of the clipped evergreens that gave Piet’s garden a sense of order.
His most recent book Planting: A New Perspective (Timber Press) frequently finds its way to my desk. In it Piet tells us to consider complexity as well as coherence. Choose a diverse group of plants, but create unity with repetition. He further advises us to intermingle plants using a combination of primary plants, matrix plants and scatter plants. He describes this approach like a fruit cake; the matrix plants are the batter and the other two types are bits of fruit. For example you might plant a large sweep of an ornamental grass with repeated groupings of perennials and shrubs. This is, or course, an over simplification. If you are interested in replicating Piet’s style I highly recommend his book. It’s an easy read that puts the possibility of creating a naturalistic garden within reach.
Notice the repetition of color and how the grasses light up in the sunlight.
Piet’s gardens are designed with four seasons in mind. This landscape will be interesting year round.
This photo illustrates how Piet lays out the plants using a grid that corresponds with the planting plan.
Conversely I employ drifts of a single type of plant in the gardens I design. This is classic Gertrude Jekyll. The interlocking drifts give a layered appearance similar to Piet’s gardens, but it’s the plant choices that dictate how contained or wild the garden will look. If casual is the goal, ornamental grasses are a favorite choice and I also like to use native perennials such as achillea, rudbeckia, penstemon and liatris. And shrubs are essential. There are so many innovative shrubs these days that offer four seasons of interest.
This photo shows the mixed border I designed at Moss Mountain Farm. Shrubs, perennials and annuals are planted in interweaving drifts.
You can design a naturalistic garden in any size space. This garden is made up of four 4′ x 4′ raised beds.
Shrubs for Wildscaping
|Little Lime™ Hydrangea paniculata||Spilled Wine® Weigela florida|
|‘Summer Skies’ Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)||Lemony Lace™ Sambucus racemosa (Elderberry)|
|Tuff Stuff&trade Hydrangea serrata (Reblooming Mountain Hydrangea)|