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Book Review: Designing with Plants

Designing with PlantsPiet Oudolf, a Dutch garden designer and nurseryman, is known for his naturalistic style of landscape design featuring herbaceous perennials and grasses. Designing with Plants explains his unique approach to garden design and teaches the gardener to look at plants in new ways with an emphasis on structure rather than color, and a concern for the appearance all through the year not just the brief time when it blooms. With suggestions for planting and tips on cultivation, the book provided a solid background for creating the same look in a home garden.

The first chapter looks at plant choices first in regard to the form of their flowerheads, then for their leaf shape and texture, and finally for their color. The next chapter shows how to use form, shape, texture, and color to create pleasing plant combinations and how to use filler plants to complete the look. Other topics explored are the uses of grasses and plants with umbrella-like flowerheads, creating repetition and rhythm, and using plants as architecture. A third chapter discusses the creation of moods or atmosphere in the garden by such methods as using light, introducing movement, or appreciating unexpected happenings that might occur such as snow or fog. A final chapter focuses on providing beauty in the garden all year round which involves learning to appreciate line, form, and neutral colors of plants as well as the natural cycles and rhythms of the plants. A plant directory listing key plants with a brief description, culture requirements, and companion plants rounds out the work.

If you are interested in modern garden design the uniqueness of Oudolf’s approach makes this book a “must read”. You will look at both plants and garden design differently and perhaps be inspired to try out some of his ideas shown in the numerous photographs of plant combinations and gardens. Even if you never try out a single idea in the book, your appreciation for naturalistic plantings will be heightened.

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