Gardens are special places — spiritual places — because they engage our senses, evoke our sense of wonder, bathe us in beauty, and connect us to a wider nonhuman world. A garden can be a place of play and of transformation. It is a setting where we can celebrate both The Mystery and our own larger being.
It took the Dutch gardener and design artist Piet Oudolf many years to get in synch with his creative spirit and his talent for making the most of the beauty and bounties of the natural world. He and his wife Anja purchased a home and property in Hummelo, Netherlands, and in 1982 opened a nursery. From growing unusual plants, he expanded out to create gardens of unusual combinations — wild gardens that you would not find in nature (but might wish you could). He has said of his work:
"For me garden design isn't just about plants, it's about emotion, atmosphere, a sense of contemplation. You try to move people with what you do."
Oudolf has been attracting international attention since he designed the Royal Horticultural Society's Glasshouse Borders in Wisley, England. Here and in all his creations, the Dutch gardener blends a plant palette of perennials and grasses that seduces the eyes with its colors and textures.
Thomas Piper, the director of Five Seasons, ushers us through a year in Oudolf's life as this garden designer visits a few of his signature works, the Lurie Garden in Chicago's Millennium Park and the High Line in New York City. These two projects provide oases of beauty in urban settings. Following Oudolf to a wooded stream valley in Pennsylvania, a wildflower prairie in the Midwest, and an area in Texas where bluebonnets grow in profusion give us further access to the artist's reverence for aesthetics.
"Gardening is a promise," he says, "You're looking forward to what will be there." That certainly is the case with the Hauser & Wirth Somerset Project where an old farm in Western England has been made into a series of creative spaces including an art gallery, artist's colony, restaurant, and garden. We see it develop from sketches to plantings to its opening.
While watching this profile, we found ourselves enchanted by Oudolf's comments on why he loves plants so much. A few examples:
"Plants are characters I compose with and put on stage and let them perform."
(On seeing Texas wildflowers) "This is too much for people like me!"
"You load yourself up with beauty and you are transformed in your work."
"My journey in life is to discover beauty — even in things that at first are not beautiful."