Piet Oudolf is a Dutch garden designer and nurseryman of note. He is best known for inspiring the ‘New Perennial Movement’ in landscaping with the use of sustainable drifts of herbaceous perennial plants complemented by swathes of grasses to provide background movement and texture.
Oudolf was born in Haarlem, Netherlands in 1944. In the 1980s he began his own nursery business at Hummelo in Gelderland with his wife, Anja, and began experimenting with plantings as his ideas progressed. His early landscaping was influenced by Wilhelmina Moussault-Ruys, a fellow pioneer of the New Perennial Movement design.
Oudolf uses mainly perennial plants with bold colours interspersed with waving grass. The philosophy behind his designs is based on gardens looking good and being of interest in every season. To achieve this, he takes into account every part of a plant from colour and leaf to seed pod; incorporating many elements of the plant’s architectural structure not just its decorative elements. This has been aided by Oudolf’s extensive knowledge of plants throughout their full lifecycle, gleaned from his nursery days. Some of his favourite plants are Salvia pretensis “Pink Delight” (for colour, structure, and tidiness); Hosta ‘Halcyon’ (because it looks good from spring to fall) and Aster oblongifolius “October Skies” (as it flowers late in tidy mounds).
Oudolf’s own garden at Hummelo has evolved many times since its first conception. He has somewhat moved away from his block-like plantings into naturalistic, blended drifts; a move that has been driven more so by ecological principles rather than aesthetics. His first commission for a more naturalistic ecological garden was the Lurie Garden in Chicago in 2003.
Oudolf’s most public landscaping projects are both in New York City. They include the High Line Linear Park. A former rail line, it is now an elevated greenway with wild grassy urban plantings in the heart of the city. He also designed the waterfront Battery Park at the southernmost tip of Manhattan Island overlooking the harbour and Brooklyn Bridge.
His best-known landscaping designs in England can be seen at Scampston Hall in Yorkshire, Trentham Estate, Stoke-on-Trent and the interior gardens at the Serpentine Galleries in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, London. He also created the Entry Garden Walk at the Toronto Botanical Garden. His latest garden design is for the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, due for completion in 2021.
Piet Oudolf has received many prestigious awards for his landscaping including the NYC Design for Excellence Award and the Association of Professional Landscape Designers Award of Distinction in 2010. He has written eight books about landscaping, mainly with co-author Noel Kingsbury (we highly recommend Planting: A New Perspective). And remains a towering figure in contemporaneous garden design and horticulture.