His radical planting is romantic, naturalistic and hugely influential, and is celebrated with a new RHS award
Piet Oudolf’s landscapes are as peopled as they are planted. Folks flock to them, whether it’s the High Line in New York, the meadows at Hauser & Wirth’s art gallery in Somerset, or the Olympic Park in Stratford, to name a few. Many of his gardens may be in hip locations or attached to big-name architects, but the reason people return again and again is his planting. His designs offer up something wild and alive. The plant combinations are dynamic and playful: you are as likely to go and admire decaying seed heads in winter as you are spring blossom. They rip up the flowerbed rule book and roll out, often over vast spaces. “I like to escape some of the rules around gardening – to provide thought and spontaneity, and pleasure.”
In many ways, he needs little introduction: there are Oudolf meadows up and down the country, from Scampston Hall and RHS Wisley to Trentham Gardens, all showcasing his complex, highly naturalistic schemes. Some of his earliest work can be found in public parks in Sweden and the Lurie Garden in Chicago. Next month, Oudolf will be exhibiting at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Hampton Court flower show, where he is creating a walk-through feature – complete with favourites astilbe, schizachyrium and monarda – and receiving the inaugural RHS Horticultural Heroes accolade. “England was the first country to appreciate my work and my approach to gardening,” he says.