• Patrick Hughes

Dutch Wave Design - My Garden Design Discovery

Life is an adventure. My strategy in moving forward with my time on this planet has been to point myself in a general direction that leads to a place where the things I’m interested in will be discovered and redefined.

There’s always a period of naiveté on this journey. You don’t know what you don’t know despite the fact you thought you had it all figured out. And then along the way you trip, fall; maybe even get your nose bloodied a bit.

But with the stumbles one’s eyes are opened and you begin to understand, see how things are linked. You learn about those who have walked in your footsteps, or at the very least worn similar shoes.

Some might call it the “aha” period, or light bulb moment. There are also those, who may be boring, who pass it off as maturation. However it is defined it makes a difference. Serendipity opens a door, you walk through it, and you feel at home and comforted by world that was there all along, you just had not yet discovered it.

Patrick Hughes - Wheel & Barrow Landscape

As a landscape designer when I approach a design I do what intuitively feels right, instinctual. Of course there are the functional aspects of the design to consider, but the creative compass has been directed by sense.

Working as a professional landscape designer I am often asked to create a design in a particular style – Northwest Asian, English Garden, Asian Garden, French Garden, the list is long and here in Portland Oregon even McMenamins is a defined garden design genre.

That said, when left to my own devices my soul is full when I am designing with long drifts of perennials and ornamental grasses. Creating gardens and landscapes that add color, movement, seasonal interest, and a sense of nature. This intuitively feels right.

How did I arrive at this design instinct? Along this journey there are a number of ways this came to being. I’ve spent a lot time in the outdoors, hiking, backpacking and running throughout the wilds on the Western United States. So I guess if nothing else, there is some osmosis involved. Nature is a pretty powerful teacher.

Patrick Hughes of Wheel & Barrow Landscape - Mt. Hood Oregon

However I would be remiss if I did not reflect on my time at Moraine Gardens a nursery in Plymouth Wisconsin. Here I had the opportunity to work for and learn from Steve Nowicki, Plantsman and the Owner of this lovely nursery. Though I was not always the most focused at this period of my life, I did manage to take in Steve’s lessons on planting design and plant care.

Photo courtesy of The Sheboygan Press

Steve had an appreciation of ornamental grasses and perennials. I don’t recall ever hearing him refer to his design approach as Naturalism or New Perennial Movement. And even if these were terms he was familiar with, and they very well may have been, he would likely scoff at these phrases as haughty.

Either way what Steve was sharing with me in practice when we worked in the greenhouses or in the field on projects in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s were grounded in these disciplines. The planting of long waves of ornamental grasses and perennials without a doubt helped shape my approach to landscape design.

Not long ago I was perusing Facebook when I came across a post that leads to a blog by landscape designer and founder of CarexTours Carolyn Mullet. I clicked through to the blog. It was a blog promoting the August 2017 tour to The Netherlands and Germany. The title of this tour was, Piet Oudolf & Dutch Wave Gardens. I was curious and read the blog, and I am really glad I did.

Dutch Wave Garden Style - Photo Courtesy of The Telegraph

I had not heard the term Dutch Wave Gardens and I was unfamiliar with Piet Oudolf. As I read down the page my eyes grew wide and I was filled with a sense of connection. This Dutch Wave Garden sounds very much like what I do in the garden. I then googled Piet Oudolf and discovered someone I had instant respect for and I wanted to learn more. This was a light bulb moment!

Reading about this naturalistic planting style that aims to emulate nature I instantly knew that this was something I had to follow. The quote below by Piet Oudolf in Carolyn’s post resonated with me.

“My biggest inspiration is nature. I do not want to copy it but to recreate the emotion.”

The more I learned and heard from Oudolf I felt light and my work had a sense of purpose.

Piet Oudolf Design, photo courtesy of

Whether the discovery of this Facebook post by Carolyn Mullet was fate, destiny or dumb luck I will never know. What I do know is it has provided a sense of credence in what I do in the garden and lofty aspirations to follow the path of one of the great designers of our time in Piet Oudolf.

This post is the first of a series of posts on Dutch Wave Gardens. I invite you to follow along as this garden of knowledge grows and blossoms.

#gardens #bloomingperennials #DutchWaveGardens #PietOudolf #NewPerennialMovement #PortlandOregon #NEPortland #landscapedesigner #OrnamentalGrass

Wheel and Barrow Landscaping Portland Oregon
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