Piet Oudolf: Leader of Dutch Wave Garden Movement
Piet Oudolf, the garden designer at the forefront of the Dutch Wave Garden movement is inspiring because of how he manages the relationship between nature and the garden with deft precision. Using perennials and ornamental grasses as staples of his plant pallet, and nature as an example he creates gardens and landscapes that are often referred to as living works of art. Tamed nature.
I’ve always believed that a successful landscape design is one that is partnered with nature. This is no easy assignment. The argument can be made that landscape designers have a very difficult job. Unlike other designers and artists who make beautiful things with dead materials like wood, metal, glass or fabric, landscape designer must be able to negotiate the un-predictability and seasonal changes of plant material.
Oudolf’s gardens tend to be large expanses, creating masterpieces around the globe. A signature component to his work is his way of block planting with perennials and ornamental grass, yet intermingling accent plants to create tension and depth to his gardens. In the United States two of his more famous works are the High Line in New York City and the Lurie at Chicago’s Millennium Park.
Oudolf’s use of ornamental grass is a part of what draws me to his work. Ornamental grasses like Karl Forester Feather Reed Grass tilt the garden towards the natural; they provide motion to the landscape and sometimes have dramatic changes in appearance from season to season. Grasses make good companion plants that set the stage for other plants to step forward and shine.
Seasonality or seasonal interest is also an element of this design style. Utilizing perennials with their varying blooming periods and features of interest aside from when the plant is flowering capture the attention of the master and novice gardener alike. Perennials are dynamic they change everyday. Oudolf is certainly one to appreciate perennials when they are in decay, as well as when they are stunning at the peak of their bloom cycle.
Dutch Wave Gardens are not a mash-up of plants, but well considered and astutely curated collection of plants. There must be a coherency between the plants selected for a garden, a relationship. He’ll often refer to rhythm within a garden. I like hearing this, as I like to say you know when a planting is successful, because you can see it dance. This comes from thought out repetition. For it to work there should be logic amongst the plants.
The Dutch Wave style is appealing to me for several reasons. Aside from being quite beautiful they typically are lower maintenance. A majority of the maintenance is seasonal, cutting back the perennials and grasses. This work is done in the late fall or winter. On a macro level we are at time when nearly 50% of our population is living in cities which results in people loosing touch with the natural. Dutch Wave Gardens and designers like Piet Oudolf provide a life line to our habitat in the midst of our concrete jungles.