Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury’s book, Planting A New Perspective did indeed give me a whole new view of designing garden beds. Although their design theories are created on a scale most gardeners would never have the space to repeat, the basics of the process can be used by gardeners employing a more limited palette and careful planning.
Having learned techniques for combining color, texture and layering I thought I had all the tools I needed to make any space gorgeous. When plants didn’t do well, I then began learning more about botany to raise healthier plants.
Yet still my beds often lack structure or have a haphazard appearance now matter how many times I try to follow the rules of keeping short plants to the front and tall to the back, repeating plants throughout a bed or adding woody plants for “structure.” After reading this book I realize now why so much of my garden could be viewed as a “plantsman’s” garden, the nice way of saying the person has one of everything and nothing of interest.
Piet Oudolf’s creations most closely resemble the best a natural prairie could offer, beautiful flowing grasses infused with bold colors of perennial flowers and seed heads. Throughout the season various plants take the spot light from spring until winter. Looking at his creations instills an instant sense of tranquility and in another turn, delight of a bold color combination. Like a prairie, the mass of vegetation fights for space, in some instances supporting neighbors whose stalks have lost their vigor, some creating a mass that hides the wilting leaves of others.
I do not treat my yard as a whole, a small ecosystem of diversified plants, but as separate beds each with their own colors, textures and plants. Within those beds, there is nothing that keeps the eye flowing, and less that gives cohesion or year round interest. Plants purchased with only flowers in mind often look pitiful after flowering and there is nothing to take the eye’s interest afterward.
The book explains a number of different techniques to achieve the dense planting of perennials and how to work with a variety of plants whose habits vary. It provides suggested plants for various uses and even provides the longevity, structural interest in terms of months and persistence (i.e. whether the plants maintains its successive growth in the same area or dies back in the center).
Many of these plants can be substituted with native plants in your area. This was my plan, to create a pollinator’s garden following the prairie pattern while sowing from seed. Although less reliable, my goal is to create pollinator’s gardens on larger scale, so purchasing critical live plants and filling in with seed sown will save money.
The Four Season Garden
What I appreciate most in Piet’s plans is the gorgeous fall and winter scenes created through his expert knowledge of plant structure. I cannot wait to put more of these methods into practice!
Pictured above is a Miscanthus sinensis Gracillimus that receives only a few hours of sun during the summer, creating a shorter/thinner version of a normally large hardy ornamental grass.