I must admit that the more I see the work of Piet Oudolf, the more I love it. The simulated meadows of flowing grasses and waves of colorful perennials which look like nature only better. His designs remind me of the “just rolled out of bed” woman’s hairstyle that was popular a several years back. How disappointed men must have been to take a gorgeous woman home and realize that “look” took hours to achieve. Similarly I feel Oudolf’s designs are a bit misleading. Although they look completely natural, it is clear that careful planning and detailed knowledge of plants is necessary to create this look.
Designing with Plants is less of a how-to book, but more of an introduction to a theory. Oudolf outlines his theory on design on subjects like movement, harmony and control in the landscape. He also discusses his concept of how to have interest throughout the seasons, especially late in each season, which is pretty much what makes his designs unique. Many of the things we banish from our gardens are exactly what he uses. When was the last time you stopped deadheading so you could enjoy the seed heads in the fall? Before Oudolf, I can’t recall a designer so boldly using all aspects of a plants life-cycle in his designs. Or even stranger, when was the last time you went out of your way to incorporate the color brown? Normally brown is the color of soil, of open space. It is something we try to cover and hide at all costs. If there is too much brown in your garden, you simply aren’t finished. But do a search for Oudolf on Flickr and cycle through a photo stream. You will quickly learn how heavily this color plays a role and just how beautiful it can be. Brown is natural and grounding. It makes pinks seem less frivolous and girly. It gives yellow a background so it can shine. The thing I have avoided in my garden is now the thing I crave.
Few design books make me completely rethink my concept of what it means to design the way this one has. Who should you gift it to? Anyone who appreciates natural gardens, wildflowers or meadows or those who simply appreciate excellent design and designers.