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Designing With Plants

Designing With Plants
Piet Oudolf with Noël Kingsbury
Portland, Ore.: Timber Press
Publication Date: 

cloth, 160 p., $34.95

Louis XIV would likely not have approved of the current crop of Northern European landscape designers. Their mission, as observed by Noël Kingsbury, is to introduce nature to urban environments and encourage a stronger connection between nature and the garden. Piet Oudolf, one of the most visible plantsmen and designers, proposes "the creation of something that changes through the years, even from day to day - the opposite, in fact, of a frozen garden. A garden that shows the cyclical nature of the gardening process is one that has emotion and mood."

Oudolf's Designing with Plants expertly delivers what is promised: a sophisticated primer for a perennial planting palette. In a turn on convention, he addresses first form, then leaves, and last, color. Of service to both professionals and amateurs, this book's highly useful lists, superb photographs and modern design compliment its innovative concepts.

We have heard of "year-round" (or four-season) planting before, but not often witnessed a perspective that so boldly proclaims its vision, i.e. noting "plants that die well," or categorizing "sombre" as a garden color. Oudolf's organizing principle resides in using perennials, not shrubs, for structure. His favorite genera include asters, astrantias, monardas, and sanguisorbas. Perhaps he will shift our gaze to plants that have not yet attained celebrity status in North America.

In this book, the Plant Directory lists specific site requirements and plant combinations. Zone hardiness is noticeably omitted; as well, Oudolf uses a number of cultivars not currently readily available in the Midwest market. Regardless, this exciting volume fulfills the requirements for art and science in idiosyncratic fashion. It extends the view of our contemporary horticulture horizon.

— Julie Siegel, Contributing Writer, Landscape Designer, and Master Gardener at the Chicago Botanic Garden.