Hummelo A journey through a plantsman's life

Piet Oudolf

Book - 2015

Over the course of his thirty-year career, Piet Oudolf has constructed dozens of private, corporate, and public gardens throughout the world, including the celebrated High Line in NYC, Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in Chicago, and temporary installations for the Venice Biennale and the Serpentine Gallery pavillion. This book presents an overview of Oudolf's career, providing detailed insight into how his beloved naturalistic aesthetic, based heavily on the use of perennial plants.

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[New York] : Monacelli Press [2015]
Main Author
Piet Oudolf (author)
Other Authors
Noël Kingsbury (author)
First edition
Physical Description
399 pages : illustrations (color) ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

GARDENERS HAVE ACTIVE fantasy lives to keep us going despite constant setbacks. Fifty shades of green don't begin to capture what's looping through our brains. Lucky is the gardener who can bring those fantasies to life - to the delight or comfort of family and strangers alike. In Charleston, S.C., David Rawle has created a beautifully tranquil public garden dedicated to the memory of his mother, Theodora, an avid gardener. Theodora Park features palmetto trees and camellias; a ceramic artist has created colorful tiles for a fountain. On the other coast, Apple's chief executive, Tim Cook, is sinking five billion shades of green into an Eden for his company's new California campus. Perhaps no one will ever be tempted to leave. This season, a few glorious new books are sure to ignite further desire. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has unlocked the gates to his earthly paradise with HIGHGROVE: An English Country Garden (Rizzoli, $50). The text, by Bunny Guinness, is warm and welcoming, as are the photographs. The 34-year-old garden has charm, imagination - and a lot going on. It has been tended, organically, with consideration for all the creatures that might chance upon it, whether legged or winged. After all, it's the property of a prince who, for his 50th birthday, gave his chickens their own house. Even though Prince Charles has a dovecote, delphiniums nearly as tall as his royal self, a Slovenian bee house, daffodil-yellow chairs set against hedges of deep green yew, and gates that blush rosily into herb and vegetable beds, what I covet is his marvelous Stumpery, which Guinness calls "an outlandish, otherworldly space." Over the years, this gnarly bit of garden goth, created by Julian and Isabel Bannerman, has grown to encompass temples, sculptures, a pond and a stone tower made of pieces "salvaged from Hereford Cathedral," with mighty plumes of gunnera heaving up from the center. Elsewhere in the garden, "the Temple of Worthies" is a memorial to the Queen Mother, Prince Charles's grandmother, who "was a keen gardener and a huge influence." Nearby, "the Wall of Gifts" is a clever way to display stone offerings sent from around the world, including apprentices' samples of masonry work. Gifts must challenge the princely gardener, as regifting is not an option. How to shoehorn in the 60 tree ferns donated in honor of a 60th birthday, when so much is already there? Yet H.R.H. graciously manages. Lest you think Prince Charles only waves a magic wand, Guinness notes that he personally planted his thyme walk "at weekends over a period of around three months." Only then did he send in the wizards with pruning shears to transform a blobby row of golden yews into eccentric topiaries. Highgrove is famous for its flower-studded meadow, blooming and buzzing through the spring and summer. Guinness reminds us that "in the U.K., just 1 percent of the wildflower-rich meadows of the 1940s have survived." In his introduction, Prince Charles writes about his dismay at the "carnage of fashionable vandalism" that has endangered many species of birds, insects and even farm animals. Highgrove, he adds, "represents one very small attempt to heal the appallingly shortsighted damage done to the soil, the landscape and to our own souls." When I despair of our ability to solve the urgent, enormous and complex crisis of global warming, I fantasize about a compassionate monarch able to simply wave a mighty scepter and heal the planet. Over in the French countryside, another Englishman who is mad for bugs and bees has taken a different approach to giving them sanctuary. While conservationists usually deploy images of "charismatic" animals like polar bears, pandas and tigers in their efforts to rouse the public, David Goulson, a professor of biological sciences, urges us to consider "the little creatures that live all around us" and "are absolutely vital to our survival and well-being," despite the fact that "we generally pay them little heed unless they annoy us." To remedy this situation, he has written an engrossing and surprisingly endearing book. A BUZZ IN THE MEADOW: The Natural History of a French Farm (Picador, $25) is his story of buying an old farmhouse in the Charente region of western France and doing just enough renovation to enjoy it with his wife and their children while letting the bugs have their way. If his delightful narrative doesn't cure your entomophobia, nothing will. I don't imagine insects have much time (or inclination) for fantasies; their sex lives are already fraught, to say the least. Fireflies and glow worms, Goulson tells us, "use light-emitting bacteria in their bottoms to attract a partner." Dragonflies, which have the largest eyes in the insect world, are primitive creatures that haven't changed much since 320 million years ago, "when they were the largest animals in the air." Males clasp onto females, sometimes stabbing them in the head, and they stay locked together for days; then things get complicated. Female mantises often eat their mates during copulation, but even without their heads - usually the first body part to be eaten - the male mantis can initiate copulation. Remarkably, copulation can occur even when both parties have lost their heads. Literally. The affable professor writes about the death-watch beetles at his house, "slowly chewing through the timbers in the living-room ceiling," but he leaves them to it, as it will take a century to do serious harm. After reading this book, I'm putting out the welcome mat to every critter except the house fly, which even Goulson loathes, since "they have the most intensely annoying and deeply unhygienic habits," involving the intermingling of animal feces and human food, and are "the most incredibly efficient vectors of an appalling range of diseases." Goulson, whose previous book, "A Sting in the Tale," covers his life's work with bumblebees, here dives into a study of bees and C.C.D. (colony collapse disorder) and the role in that collapse of a class of neurotoxic insecticides called neonicotinoids. His research into their effects on bees' brains caused a stir in chemical, agricultural and political circles, and his research came under attack. Are neonics "so different" from DDT? he asks. Goulson strains to remain hopeful now that the European Union has temporarily restricted neonics. However, he emphasizes, a host of other factors are also contributing to the decline of the world's bee colonies. Scientists are deepening their understanding of the impact of climate change on species of all sizes as they devise ways to protect vulnerable populations. Goulson makes a compelling case for habitat corridors to increase colonization. But, he warns, "the sooner we stop ravaging the Earth, the less awful our future will be." To mark his 70th birthday, Piet Oudolf, the Dutch prince of a new, highly artistic style of planting, produced a handsome, lavishly photographed book, HUMMELO: A Journey Through a Plantsman's Life (Monacelli, $50), a gift to all serious lovers of garden design. His farmhouse in Hummelo, a village in the eastern Netherlands, was the modest beginning of a nursery that eventually drew customers from around the world. Written by his frequent collaborator, Noel Kingsbury - they also worked together on the indispensable "Planting: A New Perspective" - "Hummelo" isn't a biography, but it does explain how the man who devised New York City's Battery and High Line gardens and Chicago's Lurie Garden did "so much to raise the profile of landscape designers as a group." It also sketches a fascinating history of modern Dutch gardening, largely unknown in the United States. Oudolf is master of a new style of perennial planting that expresses "a strong desire for a naturalistic aesthetic, sustainability, and a focus on creating a home for biodiversity." His beds are complex, yet they strike an easy balance. If we truly want to heal the land, this important work is a model. And, in their adventurous, arresting, multilayered density, Oudolf's compositions are stunningly beautiful. Kingsbury argues that Oudolf's work, as it matures, with plants intermingling rather than massed in blocks, is getting "wilder and wilder" - an enhanced nature, perhaps, befitting a 21st-century Eden. PARIS FEATURES PROMINENTLY in many of our fantasy lives, especially when we've been brooding too much about climate change. Like most European cities, it hides many of its charms behind towering walls and locked gates. IN AND OUT OF PARIS: Gardens of Secret Delights (Gibbs Smith, $50), by Zahid Sardar, an ambitious, meticulous and impressive tour of some of those places, is an oversize volume that features the vibrantly romantic photographs of Marion Brenner, who can make even a toad look chic. Nearly 25 years ago, the fashion designer Kenzo Takada bought a vacant warehouse filled with gardening equipment on some land near the Marais and had it transformed into a jewel of serenity, with carp pools, bamboo, pines and maples. On a rooftop, the landscape designer Camille Muller has created a sprawling utopia of trees, vines and even edible crops. "In and Out of Paris" also includes not-so-secret estates, revisiting the charming oasis of Giverny and the magnificent Renaissance water garden at Courances. Any woman (or man) who tires of floriferous France must be tired of life. After the depredations of a long, frigid winter in the Northeast, we can be forgiven our escapist fantasies. In my garden, the deer have left me almost nothing. Sometimes I don't know whether I'm gardening or simply doing yard work: picking up branches, raking mossy paths, moving rocks. This is when Ken Druse coaxes me into sylvan reveries - and persuades me to put up a deer fence. Druse has been a guru to many since his "The Natural Garden" was first published back in the late 1980s. Many books and many years later, THE NEW SHADE GARDEN: Creating a Lush Oasis in the Age of Climate Change (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $40) is a worthy addition to any horticultural library. There's no escaping it: Thoughtful gardeners are deeply concerned about global warming, and they're seeing its impact in their own backyards. Druse's sanctuary in the northwest corner of New Jersey has been hit with rising temperatures, record snowfalls and pounding downpours. But "cleaning up," he writes, "softens the sadness of loss." Indeed. We should all live by Druse's mantra and simply "Proceed." Reading Druse is like talking to a generous old friend who knows exactly when you're about to give up and comes to the rescue. Go slow, he admonishes, and do your homework. Think of the layers in your outdoor space. His suggested plant combinations are enticing. Ferns return reliably in my woodland, and in spring I'm moved by the prayerful early nods of the fiddleheads, which botanists call crosiers. Richie Steffen and Sue Olsen's THE PLANT LOVER'S GUIDE TO FERNS (Timber Press, $24.95), part of an excellent series published in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (which also includes new volumes on asters and tulips), will be a reliable companion this summer. Steffen and Olsen's book is sure to get you down on your hands and knees - if only to peer at a fern's exquisite details, like sori, the groups of spore-bearing structures on the underside of the frond that are one of the best ways to identify a fern's genus. Sally Gregson's THE PLANT LOVER'S GUIDE TO EPIMEDIUMS (Timber Press, $24.95) reminds US that they're excellent companions for ferns. I will not resist their balletic appeal - but neither, she warns, will the rabbits. Have we become helicopter gardeners, hovering over our plantings, fussing over every shoot, worrying about every tendril? A better understanding of HOW PLANTS WORK: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do (Timber Press, paper, $19.95), by Linda Chalker-Scott, should ease our minds and lighten our workloads. She does a terrific job with the science of cell structure and explains why sunflowers turn to the sun, why tulips close up at night and loads of other fascinating tidbits. Hence you believe her when she explains why you shouldn't bother with "geotextiles" - those black weed barriers that poke out of the ground in such an unseemly fashion. And she's equally dismissive of all that stuff we buy to mollycoddle our sprouts. Commercial compost teas? Unnecessary; "the ultimate green-washed product." Hydrogels? Don't bother. Soil amendments? Not always the smart choice. Here's a case for simply being a good-enough gardener. I have friends who plant entire orchards, and though I envy them, I could never survive such an enterprise. Hence my delight at the suggestion of keeping trees you can tend without a ladder. In GROW A LITTLE FRUIT TREE (storey, paper, $16.95) the California nurserywoman Ann Ralph demystifies the planting and pruning of apples, peaches, persimmons and figs - the aim is to keep the trees easy to maintain and the fruit within reach. "Pruning a small tree takes about 15 minutes," she explains. But "pruning a 12-foot tree probably requires professional help." Her instructions for cuts are presented in a reassuring manner, and she includes tips to combat stress - in the trees, not the gardener. Perhaps the only thing more depressing than losing a garden to deer is standing helplessly by as your houseplants succumb to slow, miserable deaths. As solace, Tovah Martin offers THE INDESTRUCTIBLE HOUSEPLANT: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow (Timber Press, paper, $22.95; available in late June), featuring a host of stalwarts, most of them small enough to fit in a kitchen window. It would have been helpful if she had included charts showing what works in direct light and what can survive in an air shaft. Life is short: I want to avoid any more unrequited love. But Martin's prose is so confident, and the plants so seductively photographed, that I began to fantasize about building a conservatory. Let the deer press their noses to the glass while I frolic under the ficus! And yet there's always a serpent in any garden - to remind us that when we get what we want, we'll only want more. The Buddhists are probably right: Desire is the root of all suffering. And our garden fantasies aren't exempt. But desire is also the root of all pleasure. As we stroll down the garden path, we can't help tripping over another truth: All life is transitory. Let's enjoy it while we can. DOMINIQUE BROWNING is the senior director of Moms Clean Air Force. She blogs at

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [May 31, 2015]
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Dutch plantsman Oudolf, long in the avant-garde of garden design, breaks rules. The movements he is associated with, the New Perennial Style and Dutch Wave, elevate principles of ecology paired with well-grounded plant knowledge, especially of perennials. He is is known for New York City's High Line linear park and for Chicago's Millennium Park. Oudolf (Landscapes in Landscapes) and his literary collaborator Kingsbury (Hidden Natural Histories: Trees) prepared this homage for Oudolf's 70th birthday in 2014. The invigorating book follows Oudolf's life chronologically, beginning with Hummelo, the garden begun 30 years ago by him and his wife, Anja, to supply plants required for his designs. It continues with discussions of Oudolf's growing reputation from Europe to North America, where he's learned to work with another continent's plants. Kingsbury's fraternity with and admiration for the garden designer lead him to pay proper tribute in interstitial essays to Anja as well as to Oudolf's theories and influential colleagues past and present, such as Mien Ruys, Jac Thijsse, and Karl Foerster. The moody tapestry of photographs is largely Oudolf's work, too. 300 color photos and illustrations. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.