The recent New York Times article featuring Piet Oudolf’s philosophy on winter gardens was an interesting read. Titled “A Landscape In Winter Dying Heroically,” the well written article by Sally McGrane captures his values and beliefs for what is important in Garden Design. Oudolf likes to give the idea of nature as opposed to trying to replicate it. Regarding winter gardens Oudolf feels “The skeletons of the plants are for me as important as the flowers” (NY Times) and likes to leave the brown and decaying plant material in place to give interest through the season. Cleverly, Oudolf comments on dying plant materials “You accept death. You don’t take the plants out, because they still look good. And brown is also a color” (NY Times).
On a design level I completely agree with Oudolf’s planting designs. The only catch to this idea is that brown perennials and leaves on small rooftop gardens with a limited amount of planting area don’t have the same effect as rolling hillsides of grasses in the breeze in the country. The question is, can we appreciate dead vegetation and make this work in a small urban garden?
Yes we can, and here’s how:
1. Pick one plant that you really love and repeat it in. Instead of 5 completely different plants, use that same species in clumps or in several key places in your garden. This will help draw your eye and lead you through the landscape. In fall and winter, this will help make things look more intentional as opposed to looking like you forgot to cut something back.
2. When you pull out the summer annuals, replace them with something for fall. Did you know that if you leave ornamental Kale (Brassica oleracea) in the ground over winter it will send up whispy stems of delightful little yellow flowers in the spring? We get so used to yanking things out of the garden when we are “supposed” to and forget that plants might have something more to offer us.
3. Pick an accessory. I know it’s not engrained in our mentality that brown is a nice color to see in the garden, but it is part of the seasonal cycle. I agree with Oudolf that the life and death cycle we encounter in the garden is a beautiful and reflective thing. So let the garden do what it does best. In the meantime, pick out a colorful accessory to help accentuate your winter garden. It can be as simple as a colorful metal frame chair, a piece of pottery or a sculpture. If you want to take it to the next level, pull the colors out of the dead vegetation for inspiration for your accessories. Look closely and you will find all kinds of hues of blues, purples and rusty reds.
Read the full NY Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/31/garden/31piet.html
Visit Oudolf’s Website:http://www.oudolf.com/