ISSUE 27  |  Practical Magic

Dream Landscapes: 10 Perennial Gardens Inspired by Piet Oudolf

July 13, 2016 2:00 AM

BY Alexa Hotz

Considered “the most influential garden designer of the past 25 years,” Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf has done for perennial gardening what artist Leonard Koren did for the concept of wabi-sabi: popularized and modernized an under-the-radar movement. Oudolf’s approach to planting extends beyond the technical to concepts of composition, time and temporality, repetition, and contrast. His goal is to create “dream landscapes.”

While Oudolf cites designer Mien Ruys as his primary inspiration, it’s he who put her “New Perennial Movement” into motion on a global scale. Consider, for instance, New York City’s High Line, London’s Serpentine Gallery Pavillon, and a large-scale matrix planting project underway in Japan.

The designer’s perspective is so pervasive that the first glance of a lyrical garden has us thinking “Piet” every time. Here we’ve gathered 10 dreamscapes of soft grasses and four-season garden beds, each with a decidedly Oudolfian attitude.


Above: Landscape architect firm Nelson Byrd Woltz designed 22 acres in Virginia with native species in mind. One is Pink Muhly Grass, a feathery varietal that creates a pink wash across the horizon when it’s in bloom. Photograph by Eric Piasecki/OTTO.


Above: Photograph courtesy of Scott Lewis Landscape Architecture.

A Napa Valley vineyard retreat is complete with surrounding gardens by San Francisco-based Scott Lewis Landscape Architecture. The garden was planted with, as the designer say, “seasonal color and strategic circulation,” with narrow wooden pathways reminiscent of Ouldolf’s Lurie Garden in Chicago.


Above: Designer Julie Farris’ own private garden is a version of New York City’s High Line scaled to fit a rooftop in Brooklyn. Photograph by Sophia Moreno-Bunge for Gardenista.


Above: Photograph by Dario Fusaro courtesy of Cristiana Ruspa.

A native of northern Italy, Turin-based landscape architect Cristiana Ruspa of Giardino Segreto creates the sorts of gardens you see in a dream, with hazy swaths of color against a distant horizon.


Above: Photograph courtesy of La Guardia Design Group. A meadow of red fescue grass creates a hazy, romantic focal point in the distance in a former cornfield on Long Island. For more of this landscape by La Guardia Design Group, see Dune Story: A Postmodern Masterpiece Saved from the Sea.


Above: From Cristiana Ruspa of Giardino Segreto, a garden of delicate Mediterranean ornamentals at Rocca Civalieri Hotel and Spa in northern Italy. For more. see Rehab Diaries: Resurrection of a Medieval Nobleman’s Garden. Photographby Dario Fusaro courtesy of Cristiana Ruspa.


Above: A minimalist garden by Edmund Hollander is a singular approach to borders of perennial grass. For more see our post Required Reading: The Private Oasis.


Above: Photograph courtesy of Greenlee and Associates.

Grass guru John Greenlee paints with plants. Muhlenbergia rigens (at R) is a native California bunch grass that grows quickly and sends up a 2-foot-high haze of fronds. For more, see Expert Advice: 8 Tips for a Meadow Garden.


Above: Another of Greenlee’s meadow planting schemes is a mix of Carex pansa (on the path), Pennisetum spathiolatum (at R), and Spartina bakeri (L). Photograph courtesy of Greenlee and Associates


Above: Photograph of Adam Woodruff & Associates.

Adam Woodruff & Associates of St. Louis, Missouri won the Gardenista Considered Design Awards Best Professional Landscape with a project in Girard, Illinois. Judge Flora Grubb noted: “The garden at Jones Road doesn’t so much borrow the surrounding landscape as collect it. The plantings near the house evoke the spirit of the long view, but with an intensified palette that remains prairie–subtle and intoxicating.”

To get the Oudolf look in your garden: