Piet Oudolf – An Interview

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Musings

With the publication of Piet’s latest book in collaboration with Noel Kingsbury, Planting: A New Perspective, I thought it worth re-visiting a 3 Part Interview about Piet that I wrote in 2009. Fran Sorin

Bonn 3

When I first saw Piet Oudolf’s work several years ago, it startled and provoked me. Since that time, I’ve bought every book that he has written, and I return to them time and time again for inspiration and his unique understanding of plants. So, when planning a trip to Holland last spring, I was hopeful that I’d be able to visit Piet and his gardens and interview him.

Within a week after e-mailing him, I received a response: not only did Piet say that I could visit him, but he offered me a few times when he would be home (my window of opportunity to see him was only 2 days). From this initial response, I was pretty sure that I would be meeting a generous, gentle and humble individual.

BonnAs fate would have it, I had to unexpectedly cancel my trip to Holland. My disappointment at not being able to visit Piet was palpable. Since I’m an individual who believes that things happen for a reason, I was temporarily able to shake off the feeling of having missed something special. But over the months, I kept on returning to Piet and his work: it gnawed away at me. As is my habit, I allowed my unconscious to lead the way, and I wrote to him requesting a phone interview. Again Piet’s response was more than gracious: he said that I should contact him in a few weeks, after he returned from working on a job in the U.S.

I prepared for the interview with a list of questions that I thought would cover much of Piet’s career. But a few minutes before calling him, I knew that my real motivation in wanting to talk with him was to get a glimpse of who the individual is behind the magnificent gardens he creates. As importantly, l wanted to know what Piet’s process is from the time he takes on a commission until it is completed.

So, by the time I called Piet, I was clear on my intention. Once I heard his quiet ‘hello’, any trepidation I felt had vanished. I explained to him that rather than proceeding with a traditional interview, I wanted to try something different. Without hesitation, Piet agreed. And so began our conversation.

PIET’S EARLY YEARS

Initially, Piet was what he described as ‘a conventional Dutch garden designer’ influenced by Mien Ruys, the only garden designer in Holland who was talking about the importance of plants at that time. A trip to England in the late 70s whet Piet’s appetite and fueled his imagination and the desire to create different types of gardens. He was especially taken with Alan Bloom’s garden and Hidcote.

In the early 80s, Piet and his wife, Anja, feeling that they needed more space, moved to a less populated area in Holland, a village outside of Hummelo. It was during those years that they travelled to England, Germany and the Balkans in order to bring back a wide range of plant material that had never been used in Holland.

Hummelo

In the introduction of the book Designing With Plants that Noel Kingsbury co-wrote with Piet, Noel writes “In 1984 Piet and Anja conducted an experiment which proved to be a watershed in the Dutch horticultural industry. They held an open day, which they advertised in the media, inviting like-minded nurseries to come and sell plants. Nothing like it had been seen in the Netherlands before: people came and bought plants, while the nursery owners networked with each other.”

Piet and Anja opened a nursery years ago that is still in operation today. It’s known for its carefully chosen plant selection. Piet continues to rigorously trial plants and selects only those that he considers to be up to his standards. He has named over 70 plants and in a collaboration with others in Holland’s nursery industry has created a line of plants called Future Plants that is being exported to Europe and the United States.  To learn more, click on: Future Plants.

** All photographs courtesy of Piet Oudolf

Click on to read Part II of the interview

More of Piet and Noel at:

Piet Oudolf’s website

Noel Kingsbury website

Noel Kingsbury blog

** Check out the dozens of articles written by Noel on Gardening Gone Wild

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. What is your favorite Piet Oudolf book? Share any thoughts you have about his designs and the effect it has had on you.

Fran Sorin
The 10th Anniversary Edition of Fran's classic book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, has recently been published. Updated with a new foreword by the renowned author, Larry Dossey, M.D., it has dozens of endorsements from renowned spiritual, gardening, and personal development authors and experts in their fields. A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology and One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, Fran is a renowned gardening expert, passionate gardener, deep ecologist, inspirational speaker, ordained interfaith minister, soul tending coach, and CBS Radio news contributor. See less Google+ | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest
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Karen - An Artist's Garden October 11, 2009, 5:49 am

Fabulous, I look forward to reading more of your “conversation” with him a lovely way to do an interview.
I adore Piets work and his writing. K.

Dear Karen,
Am glad you’re enjoying the interview. You’re in great company with thousands and thousands of gardeners from throughout the world who think that Piet’s work is leading the way for gardening ‘now’ and in the future. Fran

Frances October 11, 2009, 6:55 am

Thanks for this Frannie. I am a Pietaholic too, and pour over every book and magazine article plus anything on the internet. He is charismatic and has quite a following. His use of plant driven design is my inspiration. I believe Designing With Plants to be the best of his works to date, and also believe Noel Kingsbury has some influence as well. Looking forward to more!
Frances

Dear Frances,
I love your phrase ‘Pietaholic’. I understand why you are compelled to read as much as you can about Piet’s designs. Noel Kingsbury is a talented gardening professional, has alot of great thoughts and ideas to share with the gardening world and happens to be a nice guy as well! Fran

Kat October 11, 2009, 8:10 am

I was so excited to see this subject. I look forward to reading more about your interview with Piet. Just like Frederick Law Olmsted and Roberto Burle Marx, Oudolf’s work will be enjoyed for generations to come.

Dear Kat-
I couldn’t agree more on the impact of Piet’s work for future generations. Fran

Cameron(Defining Your Home Garden) October 11, 2009, 8:41 am

I am also inspired by Oudolf’s work and often look at photos of his designs to try to “deconstruct” the elements to attempt to understand the flowing patterns. I have told my husband on numerous occasions that Oudolf is making changes in garden design that will be historic. I am so glad that there are public gardens here in the US that understand the significance of his designs.

Cameron-
At the end of the 3rd part of the series, there are links to some of Piet’s public gardens in the U.S. Seiing his plant lists are helpful (which they have online). And keep an eye for it Adam Woodruff’s post on Hummelo, Piet’s garden, where he recently visited and experienced a first hand look Piet’s personal garden. Fran

our friend Ben October 11, 2009, 9:22 am

Great teaser, Fran! Can’t wait to read more!

Dear Elly,
Am glad you enjoyed it and that it’s compelling enough that you want to continue reading the interview. Fran

Jack Holloway October 11, 2009, 10:09 am

How exciting, Fran! I’m really looking forward to future instalments.

Dear Jack-
Thanks for your kind words. Fran

Carolyn Parker October 11, 2009, 10:23 am

Fran, thank you, that was a treat, and I love that list.

Dear Carolyn-
Thanks so much. There’s more to come! Fran

VP October 11, 2009, 3:17 pm

Fantastic Fran, thank you and I look forward to more.

I was surprised he named Alan Bloom as an influence. I visited his garden in June and the plants used there are quite different to Piet’s style. I suppose he’s referring to Alan’s use of unsupported perennials, rather than the actual plants themselves?

VP-
I can’t speak for Piet but remember, he visited England over 30 years ago when Alan Bloom’s garden was considered to be on the cutting edge. Fran

Pam/Digging October 11, 2009, 4:23 pm

I had a quick two-night stay in Amsterdam a couple of years ago, and it made me crazy to be so close to being able to see Piet’s garden and yet not have the time. So I understand your frustration in missing your trip.

I look forward to the rest of your interview.

Dear Pam-
Thanks. If it’s any consolation, Piet’s garden is at least one and half hours from Amsterdam. There’s always a next time! Fran

Blackswampgirl Kim October 11, 2009, 5:39 pm

Wow… amazing that he allowed other nursery owners to come and network and sell plants at his place. There are quire a few places around here that should do that–I would LOVE that kind of one-stop shopping! (And to be a fly on the wall and get to see the faces behind the stores.) :)

Dear Kim-
Doing this was a stroke of brilliance on Piet and Anja’s part. It was the first time in Holland that nursery owners came together to share information and learn about all of the fantastic and never used plants that Piet and Anja had imported to Holland. My sense is that this was the beginning of a new phase of gardening in Holland….the creation of a community, the sharing of information and a fantastic way of widening the palette of plant material used in Holland. Fran

Blackswampgirl Kim October 11, 2009, 5:40 pm

By the way, I’m glad that you admitted that part of your disappointment at your canceled trip was because you were so intrigued at the thought of meeting Piet. It’s nice to know that even professional interviewers get butterflies about meeting and talking to people they think are cool!

Blackswampgirl-

Are you kidding? I’m always a bit nervous prior to and when I begin the interview. Once I make a connection with the other person, the nervous dissipates. Fran

Charlotte October 11, 2009, 5:50 pm

Fantastic and thanks so much for sharing this. He is my MOST favourite garden designer, so really looking forward to hearing more.

Dear Charlotte-
Join the crowd! So many of us find that not only are Piet’s gardens visual feasts for the eye and soul but that they ‘make sense’ in the world of gardening of today. Fran

Alice Joyce October 11, 2009, 7:05 pm

Everything I have ever heard or read confirms Piet’s generosity with his time, and more material things such as photos and information. Kudos on this great feature!
((May I ask who is writing here ;~D))

Dear Alice-
Am glad that you’re enjoying the article. It was a great treat to talk with Piet. And it is me, Fran Sorin, who is writing the article. Fran

Garden Wanderer October 12, 2009, 4:51 pm

Great blog- I’m excited to read the continuation. I was lucky enough to visit his garden this fall (and I won’t lie, it was stunning!), but I was too shy to approach him in person. I had many questions I wished I could have asked him, so I can’t wait to read what he had to say in your interview!

Dear Garden Wanderer,
You lucky person! But I do understand your trepeditation in approaching him. It can be intimidating to do so with any well known artist or individual. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Adam Woodruff (a GGW Contributor), visited Hummelo this summer and is going to be writing a piece on it. So keep your eyes open. As one who has already visited there, I’m sure you’ll have much to say! Fran

garcan October 12, 2009, 4:53 pm

Couldn’t wait to read the other parts of this excellent article. Thanks. The garden blog world needs more of these inspiring and resourceful presentations.

Dear Garcan-
Am glad you’re enjoying the piece and thanks for your kind words. Fran

Chookie October 13, 2009, 3:13 am

Thank you for the article! WRT nurseries networking: the Grevillea Group of the Australian Plants Society organises a yearly sale like that in NSW. It isn’t just grevilleas; they have all sorts of native plants and also get expert speakers in — nurserymen, designers, and honoured members of the Society. It’s a great event!

Yolanda Elizabet October 13, 2009, 11:01 am

Hi Fran, I can understand you’re being very disappointed when your trip was cancelled but if you had gone you probably wouldn’t have had this interview with Piet but a more traditional one. ;-)

I’ve been to see Piet’s garden many times and my new border is filled with quite a few plants from his nursery.

BTW my country isn’t called Holland but the Netherlands. Holland is just a part of my country, namely 2 provinces called North and South Holland. The province where Piet lives is Gelderland. Just thought I’d clear that up. ;-)

Dear Yolanda-
First, thanks so much for clearing up my mis-use of the world Holland when it should have been the Netherlands. Second, what a lucky gardeners you are to be able to plant your garden with specimens from Piet and Anja’s nursery! Fran

Lakshmi November 23, 2009, 12:29 pm

Hello, I have a group of around 44 students and 4 teachers who would like to visit the Piert Oudold Nursary around the 6 or 7th of April 2010 are you able to assist? Thank you

Jason April 2, 2013, 3:03 pm

I only have read one Oudolf book, “Designing with Plants”. It is a favorite among all my gardening books. He really opened my eyes to new aspects of garden design. I work really close to Lurie Garden in Chicago so I am always being inspired by his ideas.

Fran Sorin April 2, 2013, 10:27 pm

Jason-
Lucky you for living close to Lurie Garden. You not only have a feast for the eyes but a great teaching tool ~ Fran

Cassidy April 3, 2013, 11:57 pm

Great interview! I look forward to reading the rest. I haven’t heard of Piet Oudolf before, but his work is beautiful! I’ll have to research his work a little more :)

Fran Sorin April 5, 2013, 12:01 am

Cassidy – Do research him out and check out his books – they are some of the best on the market. He deserves all of the recognition that he has. :) Fran