Oudolf’s New Wave Planting in the NY Times


You know how we’ve complained about the mainly absent gardening coverage in the paper of record?  Well, there’s a new name in today’s Home and Garden section – a Sally McGrane, unfamiliar to me – and she’s covering someone and something worth writing about.  That’s Piet Oudolf, the star of Europe’s so-called New Wave Planting movement, where ecology meets design.  To Oudolf, a plant’s form and structure are more important than its color.  He says the real test of a garden isn’t "how nicely it blooms but how beautifully it decomposes." Nice change from the "Make it Bloom!" school of gardening, huh?

Here’s the article and check out the slide show if you’re unfamiliar with his work.  I just have one question.  Oudolf is also sometimes called a founder of the sustainable gardening movement, but take a look at those perfectly sheared shrubs.  Looks more like the Full Employment for Professional Gardeners Movement.


  1. These photos are stunning due to the backdrop of nature. It’s hard to go wrong with a country manor, moody sky, expansive horizon and shimmering pond. All one needs is a mass planting of ornamental grass and reminiscent of Britain clipped hedges. Hardly a movement if garden design simply compliments nature.

  2. When you look at those hedges, Susan, do you think that they would take any more time to manage over the course of a year than the same area devoted to lawn? Do you think the environmental benefits of the hedge are greater than that of the same land in lawn? Can you think of a better background for the garden plants?

    If you really get into the the ‘New Wave’ movement it gets into establishing plant communities and choosing plants that work together based on their root structures. Creating these communities reduces weeds and maintenance and (again) allows for larger ornamental plantings and less lawn with less maintenance expense.

    Check out Hansen and Stahl’s Perennials and Their Garden Habitats sometime. I read it years ago and started to grasp this whole New Wave thing. I’m due to reread it.

    I think of Oudolf as the one who focused on the above-ground aspects of New Wave and broadened the plant palette. Once the focus was off the flowers, that really opens you up to a lot more choice.

  3. Oh, I’m BIG on shrubs, just not on perfectly sheared ones. Don’t see the point. Don’t like the look. Hate standing on ladders while using dangerous equipment.

  4. Oops… I sent my comment off before I was finished.

    The NYT article was interesting and finally now I know more about Piet Oudolf. I’ve seen his name mentioned in the blogging world, but didn’t really know anything about him. Well, I gathered he is revered in some circles.

  5. I’m not really into perfectly sheared shrubs on my place either Susan. But your implication was that these shrubs weren’t ‘sustainable’.

    I think they’d be more ‘sustainable’ and natural looking unsheared. But I’d venture that they are as ‘sustainable’ or more so than lawn or even a typical bed.

  6. Also worth noting that Oudolf’s appreciation and use of the full life cycle of a plant; foliage, flowers, seed heads, mushy dead bits in winter is pretty eco-friendly. Wintery mushybits and fallen seedheads providing food and shelter and all that.

  7. Oudolf’s plantings are pure genius.His design work awakens this sense of wonder and delight within those who venture there.You breath deeper and your heart expands as you move through.
    It is so different from any other public garden.Everything feels right.It is not just beautiful. It is sound.So full of life and movement from both the plants and the wildlife that find an oasis in the desert of what is most urban areas.
    I have been in the Lurie garden when perfect strangers walk up and have trouble expressing how they are moved and how grateful they are that such a place exists in the heart of the city.

  8. here, here gloria. I loved your post (click on her posted by:) went to your link and Lurie Garden Cgo-January to see the most beautiful. If you want to see more of Oudolf’s work without clipped hedges this is it. Don’t knock the clippers, the big picture here is sustainable, environmentally friendly, minimal water consumptive, bird happy gardening that looks good in all four seasons. We all can do that.
    Just please let me know how to stop the cat from eating my seedlings? Those plants have to come from somewhere and seed is the cheapest and most fun.

  9. I’m with Gloria. Well put. This master designer looks at the big picture- the scene beyond, and integrates it in his plot. Breathtaking, unexpected and “out of the box” works for me as well.

  10. I am familiar with Oudolf’s work, but I had never heard that he was considered “the founder of sustainable gardening”. Right here in my own corner of Western Mass is the noted Conway School of Landscape Design founded by Walter Cudnohufsky about 30 years ago. Walt has been devoted to conservation and sustainability since he was a 14 year old 4-H member. CSLD was founded on principles of sustainability. I’m glad there are many influential people advocating and educating about sustainability.

  11. I’ve loved Oudolf’s gardens since I first saw them in a Penelope Hobhouse book 15 years ago. I find his gardens extremely romantic–and the contrast between the clipped shrubs and relaxed perennials seems key to me.

    I’d love to have loads of strictly clipped shrubs in my yard. If only I weren’t such a chicken when in comes to pruning.

  12. Oudolf’s garden design influence has been huge for me in my own garden.

    There’s so much ideology urging the use more of more native plants. But most ideologues generally don’t give a hoot about good design.

    Oddly enough, it took a European to show us how to design effectively with North American plants. I’ve always enjoyed the irony of that, and I find his design ideas very liberating.

    I loved this quote from Oudolf in the Times article: “When I started, 35 years ago, everything was focused on the traditional English garden. It was all flower and color. It was dogmatic — deadheading, staking. I got a bit tired of that.”


  13. I hate to say it, but I don’t see much difference between Mr. Oudolf’s work and Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden’s “New American Garden” philosophy of thirty plus years ago (http://www.ovsla.com/philosophy/philosophy.htm).

    They first published their work in the book, “Bold, Romantic Gardens” in 1990 (ISBN 0-87491-950-9, Acropolis Press).

    And, on the 26th page of that book you’ll find a black and white photo taken around 1930 in the garden of the German horticulturist, Karl Foerster, that, to me, looks a lot like a garden Mr. Oudolf might design?

    So, while Mr. Oudolf’s work is impressive (I refer to the book he and Noel Kingsbury co-wrote, “Planting Design – Gardens in Time and Space,” frequently for inspiration) it’s not exactly new?

    Finally, speaking of sustainability, how many of the North American natives he uses in his designs are potentially nasty “invasives” in European climates (http://www.eppo.org/ABOUT_EPPO/about_eppo.htm)?

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