i love plants that are dead


A dozen years ago, I didn’t know the name Piet Oudolf.  I had no idea he would have a profound influence on my gardening life.  You might think the installation of a garden is a boring experience.  You would be wrong.  I learned more working on the installation of The Battery Conservancy Bosque, under the guidance of Director of Horticulture, Sigrid Gray and designer Piet Oudolf (who was on site for the entire installation process), than any other gardening experience I have had.

The film, Piet Oudolf:  Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall directed and photographed by Tom Piper reminded me what a genius Piet Oudolf is.  “Plants are like characters, I can compose with.  I put plants on a stage and let them perform.”  But as Piet later remarked in the film, “I make a landscape you will dream of, but never find in the wild.”


Photograph courtesy of

Yes, it’s true Piet knows his plants.  Yes, it’s true he can design a garden almost intuitively.  Of course, that’s great.  I can’t do it.  But an Oudolf garden is really about emotion. It’s a world view.  “It takes courage to cut back the plants.  To cut into all that beauty.  It’s all about birth and death.  It’s like our own lives.  In the landscape there is always the following year.”


Article by Anna Pavord and Photographs by Jason Ingram from Gardens Illustrated, Issue 238

Oudolf on designing the garden at Hauser & Wirth Somerset*: “Contemporary art is not always about the aesthetics – people who start to step over a line – or a threshold and think that the beauty is there – seeing beauty in decay -beauty in death – in the unexpected … that is part of my life too.  I try to create a garden that is beautiful – the minute you say i love plants that are dead – you have a problem. People don’t like that.  I think its the journey in your life to find out what real beauty is, but also to discover beauty that at first does not seem beautiful.”


Photo courtesy of One of Piet’s drawings.

I attended a screening of the film last night.  It was shown as part of the Architecture and Design Festival in NYC.  After the film, Piet and Tom Piper, director of the film, took questions.

In an obtuse answer to a vague question about the city as garden, Piet talked about taking good care of a garden after it is completed.  “People see gardens as something that is built.  A garden needs good gardeners and money to pay good gardeners.  We should always ask the question what happens after? I like to do an annual check-up on the gardens I design.”  I was very proud, when one of gardeners from Randall’s Island Park, raised his hand and thanked Piet for acknowledging the gardeners contribution to keeping a garden beautiful.

design : Anja und Piet Oudolf NL

Photo courtesy of

Piet Oudolf is considered one of the founding fathers of the naturalistic planting movement.  This places him in an historical context, but does not get at what his gardens are really about.  An Oudolf garden stirs the heart. This what I aim for in the gardens I design, but never achieve, at least not yet.

Piet Oudolf:  Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
Checkerboard Film Foundation

(In the NYBG Fall Catalog, the garden will show the film,
the date has not been announced.)

*Hauser & Wirth, Somerset is a gallery and multi-purpose arts center, “which acts as a destination for experiencing art, architecture and the remarkable landscape through new and innovative exhibitions of contemporary art.  A landscape garden, designed for the gallery by internationally renowned landscape architect Piet Oudolf, includes a 1.5 acre perennial meadow, which sits behind the gallery buildings.”


Helenium moerheim beauty. Photo courtesy of

Some plants form Oudolf Field at Hauser & Wirth:
Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’
Helenium ‘Loysder Wieck’
Sanguisorba ‘Blackthorn’
Doellingeria umbellata
Symphyotrichum novi belgii ‘Violetta’
Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Reb Buttons’
Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Transparent’
Succisa pratensis
Anemone x hybrida ‘Robustissima’
Lysimachia ephemerum
Stipa tenuissima
Sporobolus heterolepis
Thalictrum rochebruneanum
Selinum walichianum
Agastache ‘Blackadder’
Sedum ‘Matrona’
Rudbeckia subtomentosa
Anemone hupehensis var. japonica ‘Pamina’
Echinops bannaticus
Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album’
Eurybia x herveyi
Aruncus ‘Horatio’
Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’
Echinacea pallida












Piet Oudolf:  Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall

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