As na­ture in­tended

Ac­claimed Dutch gar­den de­signer Piet Ou­dolf is lead­ing the nat­u­ral­ist plant­ing move­ment. Han­nah Stephen­son finds out how to cap­ture the look at your home

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - GARDENING AND PETS -

If you like swathes of or­na­men­tal grasses rub­bing shoul­ders with peren­ni­als that look like they’ve been planted to­gether all their lives, then Piet Ou­dolf is the ex­pert gar­den de­signer to fol­low. He’s among the lead­ers of the nat­u­ral­is­tic plant­ing move­ment, which favours or­na­men­tal grasses that pro­vide move­ment and struc­ture, ac­cented with peren­ni­als that bring colour and form. His drifts of grasses cre­ate a soft, misty back­ground for other plants.

Ou­dolf, who has de­signed gar­dens across the world, from RHS Wis­ley in Sur­rey to Pen­sthorpe in Nor­folk and ground zero on Man­hat­tan Is­land, is en­cour­ag­ing us all to go nat­u­ral with a new iconic Hor­ti­cul­tural He­roes fea­ture at the RHS Hamp­ton Court Palace Flower Show this sum­mer.

The Dutch de­signer is cre­at­ing a whim­si­cal walk-through fea­ture us­ing drifts of herba­ceous peren­ni­als and grasses syn­ony­mous with his painterly style. He doesn’t like plants to be sup­ported, pre­fer­ring them to grow into each other, prop­ping each other up.

“To achieve a nat­u­ral­is­tic style, the plant­ing has to look more spon­ta­neous than clas­si­cal plant­ings,” Ou­dolf says. “It has to look com­posed, but not wild — it must be in­te­grated.

“My style in the Hamp­ton Court gar­den is where groups of peren­ni­als are placed in a more dom­i­nant field of grasses, and I hope the pub­lic will take in­spi­ra­tion from that. The grasses in­clude Sporobo­lus het­erolepis, Stipa bar­bata and within that we have 20 dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of peren­ni­als, which bring the colour.” He ad­vises gar­den­ers to give their out­door space all-year-round in­ter­est, which is why he so loves grasses, whose struc­ture and move­ment pro­vides in­ter­est in the cooler months. “Think about win­ter-flow­er­ing shrubs, helle­bores, snow­drops and cro­cuses. Win­ter in­ter­est can also be pro­vided by the left­overs of plants, such as seed­heads,” Ou­dolf says. “Most grasses we use are easy to con­trol and not ram­pant. In gen­eral, there are as many ag­gres­sive peren­ni­als as there are grasses, but you need to know what you are do­ing.” His favourite grasses in­clude Stipa bar­bata, which has an el­e­gant flower and blends with peren­ni­als as it moves with the wind. He also favours Echi­nacea pal­l­ida and Eryn­gium alpinum, bet­ter known as sea holly and monar­das. Most of the peren­ni­als he prefers are easy to grow. Here, RHS chief hor­ti­cul­tur­ist Guy Barter — who points out that us­ing tall, hand­some plants in drifts re­quires space and abun­dant sun — has put to­gether five of Ou­dolf ’s favourite plants and a guide to grow­ing them...


This plant (in­set) has tall, gor­geous pink sum­mer flow­ers beloved by pol­li­na­tors, and pur­plish leaves that tend to ex­ceed 90cm in shady spots, so good sup­ports are ad­vis­able in do­mes­tic gar­dens. It ap­pre­ci­ates wa­ter­ing to fend off mildew and keep the plant flow­er­ing well. The monarda looks best in groups of three (or more, if at all pos­si­ble).


If you’re look­ing for late sum­mer flow­ers, cone­flow­ers are a won­der­ful ad­di­tion to your bor­ders. They’re a mag­net for pol­li­na­tors, pro­duc­ing pink flow­ers around a dark ‘cone’ — as long as the soil is not too dry and they are well staked, as the 1.2m stems can be weak in gar­dens. They re­quire full sun to thrive.


With spikes of pink flow­ers on 80cm stems, this very ro­bust plant likes damp­ish soils and will put up with light shade. One for the wilder parts of the bor­der that will flower freely if the spent spikes are cut out. 4. SALVIA X SYLVESTRIS ‘DEAR ANJA’ Blue and pur­ple flow­ers and scented fo­liage make this 90cm plant a good choice for sunny bor­ders. It’s drought-re­sis­tant, but one for warm-shel­tered south­ern gar­dens, un­less cut­tings can be kept in­doors in win­ter.


Veronica longifolia ‘Pink Eveline’ pro­duces ma­genta flower spikes borne over a long pe­riod from mid-sum­mer, although you’ ll need to dead­head it reg­u­larly. This grace­ful plant will at­tract bees and other pol­li­na­tors, and is also a favourite among flower ar­rangers. It grows to around 60cm tall.

NAT­U­RAL­IS­TIC: Glasshouse bor­ders in sum­mer at RHS Gar­den Wis­ley, de­signed by Piet Ou­dolf

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