The Landscape Guide

Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury Planting Design: Gardens in Time and Space (Timber Press, 2005, ISBN 0881927406)

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It is a pleasure to welcome a good book on planting design: so many are published and so few are good.

I am puzzled as to how the cover photograph was chosen - it is blurred and insipid. But most of the photographs inside the book are of exceptional quality with the photographer and the designer sharing a taste of waving clouds of dreamy colours. Many of the pictures are taken in the misty conditions of morning or evening. They are not photographs of gaudy, designed to flatter the ego of a princely client. They are poetic, compositions to sooth the soul of a tired urbanite.

And storied windows richly dight,
Casting a dim religious light.
Milton Il Penseroso. Line 159.

Piet Oudolf's own garden (Kwekerij Piet Oudolf) has less of dim religious light than the designs in this book. If one had to be unkind, one might classify it as Romantic Baroque. It is in Holland and as often with the Dutch attitude to landscape, one senses a regret for the vast watery swamp in the estuaries of the Rhine and Maas - before they were reclaimed as productive agricultural polders. Ouldolf's garden is not in the polder land but many of the plants he uses, such as Echinacea purpurea, do best in damp or wet conditions. One should not assume that these effects can be created anywhere.

The word which comes most often to mind when admiring Oudolf's planting design is 'drifts'. I believe it first came into use for bulbs, as 'a drift of snowdrops'. Oudolf has shown how the concept can be applied to herbaceous plants. He also has a taste for minimalist geometry but handles this aspect of design with less confidence than the naturalistic planting.

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