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Trained as an architect, Oudolf values plants as much for their form and texture as for their color. He is the founder of New Wave planting, a spectacular naturalistic style of landscape design. Oudolf stresses the importance of choosing plants that "live well and die well," so that from birth in the spring through the crescendo of summer to the stark beauty of autumn and winter the garden presents continuing drama and interest. When your new gardening bible comes with chapters entitled "Birth," "Life," and "Death," you know you're in trouble. But be brave, turn to those chapters, and in some very practical little essays on planting, you'll uncover the very down-to-earth principle from which Piet Oudolf's radical reinvention of gardening is based: plants die.
In the traditional mixed border, shrubs, climbers, perennials, bulbs, and annuals defy mortality; when one plant passes its best, there's always another in the wings, waiting to grab the eye. But such borders have very little impact: there is too little at any one time to hold one's attention. Oudolf wonders why we fight the unavoidable. Why not create borders that bring out the beauty of plants throughout their natural cycles?
Oudolf also thinks our obsession with color is another deadening influence on current gardening practice. Plants have form: leaves, flower heads, and stems have beauty and variety, too, and last far longer than any bloom. Why not create gardens that use the whole plant, not just its genitals? This, as you've probably already guessed, is a recipe for perennials, and without any of that anxious autumn rush to cut down those perfectly lovely bare stems and seed heads.
With these versatile plants, Oudolf would have us all create gardens that change month by month, week by week, even day by day. It's a radical, beautiful vision that's absurdly easy to achieve. In Designing with Plants, Noel Kingsbury has done a terrific job of bringing Oudolf's work within reach of the rest of us. --Simon Ings, Amazon.co.uk