A Visit to London's Piet Oudolf Garden

serp gard photo

Photo: P. Klimt

Each summer for the past eleven years, the Serpentine Gallery has commissioned a different architect to design a pavilion on the adjacent park lands. It serves as an inspirational place to hang out, hear lectures and have a drink.

This year's is designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and its focal point is a specially created garden by the Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf (of New York's High Line and Battery Park fame). It's one month old now and we went to take a peek at how it's growing. .

side view photo

Photo: P. Klimt

Too often landscape designers are hired at the last minute, to make a building look good. Ivy covers a multitude of sins. But in this case, Peter Zumthor's pavilion was created for the garden, rather than vice versa. 'The building sets you up to regard the inner sanctum with a heightened reality,' noted one designer.

The.shape of the building represents the 'Hortus Conclucus', translated as 'enclosed space'. The concept originated in medieval theology and gardens.

The pairing of the architect and Dutch designer was key to the success of the project. It is a walled garden which the architect wanted to be a place of intimacy, a quiet spot away from the noise of the city. Oudolf is famous for his urban greening--creating urban places of refuge.

Oudolf said: "I haven't met one architect who saw my work as four dimensional. With no exception, they all see it as what it is, not what it will become. What I put down in the garden is a performance in time, which is why trust between the architect and the landscape architect matters."

flower view photo

Photo: P. Klimt
Piet Oudolf's plantings emphasize the form, texture and natural harmony of plants. He uses grasses and structural perennials to create interest from early spring until October (in this case, when the building closes). Rather than relying just on colour, he concentrates on form: plumes, grasses, see-through plants that move and change with the wind and light.

view flower photo

Photo: P. Klimt

He likes to use plants that are native such as eupatorium, cimicifuga, monarda, joe pye weed and molinia grasses. Deep red perennials such as Astrantia major 'Claret' and Monarda 'Jacob Cline' are favourites. In autumn the seed pods and browning of the leaves and grasses present a different palette for the eye.

front view photo

Photo: P. Klimt

His vision for the pavilion:

"I imagined something to dream in, something loose and wild. I look for silhouettes and textures, plants that look interesting before they are in flower. This colour tends to be slightly shocking, an articulation of something primitive. Not too much, just a little punctuation gets attention.

I want visitors to see that architecture is simple and planting is complex. Looking into plants brings you into another kind of thinking, connected with inner space. That's what a hortus conclusus is for. It's simple, in a complex way."

More on Piet Oudolf Gardens
New Serpentine Pavilion has a Piet Oudolf Garden
Take the Highline, Manhattan's Newest Park

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