Perennials in Piet Oudolph’s nursery in Hummelo, Netherlands.

Garden travel is one of my passions and, over the past 25 years of travel to gardens in Europe and North America, I’ve witnessed a shift in design and planting emphasis toward more naturalistic, low-maintenance landscapes. The new designs are based on sweeps of structure, texture, and color that change with the seasons and gardens’ maturity. Plants are chosen for their durability and adaptation to the site as well as their contribution to the larger design.

Piet Oudolf, Dutch plantsman and landscape designer, has been one of the people at the forefront of these changes. His work, beginning in the 1980s, revolutionized European garden design with its emphasis on grasses and tough, hardy perennials and bulbs. In his early years, he felt constrained by meticulously kept perennial borders that required constant deadheading, staking, dividing, and pest control to remain presentable.

One of Oudolph’s many cultivars, the Flames of Passion geum.

Oudolf is first and foremost a plantsman; he grows and studies the plants that he uses in his designs so he intimately understands how they look in all life stages and seasons of the year. His knowledge led him to use more grasses and complementary perennials in his plantings and to hybridize his own new varieties. He and his wife operate a plant nursery at their home in Hummelo, Netherlands, where he experiments with new varieties. His plant introductions include Aconitum ‘Stainless Steel’, Sedum ‘Red Cauli’, Malva ‘Sweet Sixteen’, Geum ‘Flames of Passion’, Echinacea ‘Jade’ and E. ‘Fatal Attraction, and many more.

His award-winning designs carried him across the Atlantic to New York City and Chicago, where he worked on the master plan for the Gardens of Remembrance and the Battery Bosque in Manhattan and the Millennium garden in downtown Chicago. He’s currently part of the team that’s working on the High Line project in New York City. This unusual project is transforming a 1.5-mile-long elevated train platform into a public park.

When planning my garden-related trips, I usually don’t consider major cities as destinations, but I see visits to Manhattan and Chicago in my future. Short of a trip to England, Holland, Germany, or Sweden, it’s the closest I can get to the work of this groundbreaking designer.

To read more about Piet Oudolf’s public and private gardens, visit the following blog sites and articles at these links:

-Ann Whitman, Staff Horticulturist