I had the pleasure of visiting the William Robinson Festival at Gravetye Manor this weekend and was fortunate to listen to a talk by Piet Oudolf.
Piet Oudolf is an influential Dutch garden designer of which he is seen as the figurehead of the New Perennial Movement. His designs and plant compositions use bold drifts of robust herbaceous perennials and grasses which are chosen at least as much for their structure as for their flower colour. They have to look as good in decay as they do in the first unfurling of spring.
Oudolf talked about his own garden at Hummelo, which when he first moved into, was a dilapidated country farmhouse with a few acres of land. Piet and his wife, Anja, renovated the house, raised a family, created the gardens and established a 6,000 square metre plant nursery – no mean feat! They collected, propagated, trialled and refined what then became his signature palette of robust perennials and grasses necessary for his designs. Later, after closing the nursery, Oudolf transformed it into a wild meadow, combining structural perennials with a matrix of native grasses used from the nursery. The garden was then opened to the public where Anja handled an increasing flow of visitors. Sadly for us now, the garden is now closed to the public. However, if this brief overview of Piet Oudolf and his garden at Hummelo has whetted your appetite and you’d like to discover more, then take a look at the book – ‘Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life’.
There are Oudolf meadows up and down the country, the closest to me being at RHS Wisley. Here the borders are divided into bands of planting, with each band containing three or four perennial varieties and/or grasses with no single band being repeated. The plants are chosen for their aesthetic relationships to each other as well as for their ability to provide seasonal interest.
I’ve also had the pleasure of visiting Trentham Gardens, which also showcases his complex, highly naturalistic schemes. In contrast to its formality, Oudolf has created more flowing borders either side of the Italian garden.
There are also a number of publications describing his planting style and projects that he has been involved in:
Gardens of the High Line
Planting the Natural Garden
Dream Plants for the Natural Garden
Planting: A New Perspective
Piet Oudolf: Landscapes In Landscapes