Learn From The Experts: Piet Oudolf

Ilona Erwin

Garden Expert

About Piet Oudolf

“The idea is not to copy nature, but to give a feeling of nature.”

The Big Picture

I like to connect people with the processes of their own lives. What it takes humans a lifetime to experience, a plant will experience in its own yearly life cycle. In that sense, gardening is a microcosm of life.

I love Joe-Pye weed, Echinacea, Baptisia —not just when they flower but when they come into seed. Even when the seedpod is eaten off by the birds, they are still beautiful. And they change your garden from spring until winter. They are hard workers. –Q&A With Piet Oudolf

photo by Esther Westerveld on Flickr CC 2.0

photo by Esther Westerveld on Flickr CC 2.0

One of the better known designers of today, Piet Oudolf has helped revolutionize how we think a garden should look. Along with he has made what I think of as ‘New American Style’ to become a popular garden style.

That might seem a little odd as this garden designer is Dutch, but when he was commissioned for Chicago’s Lurie Garden he made it his mission to understand the plants of the prairies (1). That use of many of our native plants made Oudolf perhaps our premier interpreter of how an American garden can and should best look, even though we embrace so many styles throughout our coast to coast stretch of environments and climates.

Quotations from Piet

Planting Design

“Repeating plants at regular intervals adds rhythm and variation, It creates a feeling that ‘this is one place, with one design and one vision.'”

“Good repeating plants need to have a distinct personality and a long season of interest, or at least disappear tidily or die back discreetly”

“Structure is the most important component in a successful planting; colour is important too but it is a secondary consideration.”

I found that garden design was nothing to do with succession or progress – just putting beautiful plants together. So I tried to experiment myself and found it was not that easy… to know what would work, and that to keep a garden interesting you need a certain percentage of plants for each season. And you need good characters to make it all work

Dead Plants

‘The skeletons of the plants are for me as important as the flowers.s’

You see a lot with dead plants. The shapes and forms, the seed heads in contrast with the grasses. When it freezes it looks even better.

4 Season Garden

“A lot of gardening is focused on flowers. People don’t realize plants can be beautiful after flowering, and they cut them down before they can even see it. I look outside now and see the clematis that flowered in the summer but is more interesting now that it is showing seed heads.

If you make a four-season garden you have to learn to accept decay and see the beauty of it. It’s about the texture and shape, the seed heads and the skeletons. So instead of using the scissors you use your eyes.”


To keep a garden interesting you need a certain percentage of plants for each season. And you need good characters to make it all work

On Gardening

First you need to learn your plants and have an eye for placing them. You also need to see what’s wrong and edit it. I visit my gardens every two years and still there are mistakes

P. Oudolf

A designer plantsman who was not formally trained and came late to his garden career.

You can find Piet Oudolf Onlne:
His website
On Flickr


Piet’s Picks

Favorites according to his comments

Salvia pretensis ‘Pink Delight’

Hosta ‘Halcyon’

Veroniscastrum virginicum

Molinia caerulea

Carex eburnea


Aster oblongifolius ‘October Skies’

Aster puniceus

Allium christophii

Allium nigrum


Witch Hazel

Natural Experience


5 Seasons Of Beauty

“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.”

Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf documentary trailer from Thomas Piper on Vimeo.

Experience starts the moment you start to like gardening. You can’t do it right the first time. You can’t even do it right in a few years. You always see the next step you have to do. Start simply, putting good combinations of plants together, and work from there. You have to go through all the steps. You cannot skip any lessons. That is honest. It’s hard work. But you get something back, that’s the good thing. It’s like raising children. You try to do your best.

Piet Oudolf

Dutch author and creator of both personal and public gardens, NYT: "Q&A: Piet Oudolf on Designing a Winter Garden"

New Perennial Gardening

Learn From The Experts: Piet Oudolf

“When I started, 35 years ago, everything was focused on the traditional English garden. It was all flower and color. It was dogmatic — deadheading, staking. I got a bit tired of that.”

  • High Line, New York City
  • Battery Park, New York City
  • Lurie Gardens, Millennium Park, Chicago
  • Vlinderhof, Utrecht
  • Westerkade, Rotterdam
  • Hauser & Wirth Gallery, Somerset
  • Maximilian Park, Germany
  • Potters Fields Park, London
  • Drömparken, Sweden

You look at this, and it goes deeper than what you see. It reminds you of something in the genes — nature, or the longing for nature.

You accept death. You don’t take the plants out, because they still look good. And brown is also a color


It is important that planting schemes for biodiversity combine species which really support wildlife effectively as well as those which simply look good and tick the ‘native’ box

~ opinion on planting natives


Now Plant Your Own Masterpiece!

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.