Noteworthy Books on Related Topics
Planting : a new perspective on combining plants using design and ecological principles
Call Number: SB472.45 .O92 2013
Publication Date: 2013-04-09
Landscapes in Landscapes
Publication Date: 2011-05-24
Designing with Plants
Call Number: SB407 .O83 1999
Publication Date: 1999-09-15
Dream Plants for the Natural Garden
Call Number: SB407 .G47 2000
Publication Date: 2013-12-01
Planting the Natural Garden
Call Number: SB407 .O8413 2005
Publication Date: 2003-11-15
Call Number: SB472.45 .O93 2005
Publication Date: 2005-10-21
Gardening with Grasses
Call Number: SB431.7 .K55 1998
Publication Date: 1998-02-15
Traditionally, the Seasonal Walk at The New York Botanical Garden has been a display of annuals, which kicked off with a massive colorful showing of tulips in spring and reached a crescendo in the summer with an imaginative arrangement of summer tropicals.
In 2014, the renowned Dutch landscape designers Piet Oudolf and Jacqueline van der Kloet were invited to create a seasonal display that drew upon their areas of expertise: perennials, ornamental grasses and bulbs. The result has been a transformation of the annual border into a multi-seasonal herbaceous paradise. Gardeners should not be intimidated by the opulent display found on Seasonal Walk. The artistry of the designers’ skill in combining plants is at times overwhelming and inspiring, yet the principles are within everyone’s reach.
One feature that is immediately recognizable in the border is the intermingling of permanent and ephemeral plant masses. Perennials are skillfully placed in drifts that flow through the border. They hold the space in the spring as they slowly emerge and fill out until they are cut back as late as possible at the end of the season. They form the structural component in the border.
Tucked in the perennial drifts are irregular shapes that have been left open for the more ephemeral displays: tulips in the spring and annuals and tender bulbs in the summer. While these areas have irregular shapes (they are referred to as batwings and peanuts based on their form), the same shapes are repeated throughout the border, giving a sense of continuity that is important in any good design.
Part of the Dutch team’s talent is to combine both the permanent and temporary features of the garden effortlessly so that they look like a cohesive whole. The annual and perennial features are woven together in such a way that one spills upon another in a seamless fashion.
For the home gardener, this is something to emulate. Garden design planning starts with the planting; leave open spaces (drifts) in your perennial border that can be filled with annuals. The annuals do not have to be at the front of the border in a stiff, uniform fashion; rather, they can flow freely through the border, weaving from the front to the middle of the border.
One of the hallmarks of Oudolf’s design is mass planting, using large blocks of perennials and grasses for color and impact. In some of his drifts these textural and colorful blocks are a partnership of two of three perennials that intermarry. In other spaces, the perennials fly solo to create a solid mass.
The average gardener will not have the space that Oudolf and van der Kloet had to work with. One solution is to take the principles of planting in drifts (some with one perennial, others with combinations of a few select plants) and simply reduce the numbers that comprise a drift. For instance, instead of planting a mass of nine sneezeweed (Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’), plant three to five. Downsize a duo of seven wood avens (Geum ‘Flames of Passion’) and eight wild sweet William (Phlox divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume’) to three and four.
Throughout the long border different themes are repeated, some based on texture, color, form and plant choice. In this long border, many perennials act as anchors for the design. It is important in any successful design to have repeating dominant themes. They create the architectural structure of the design as well as tie together the composition and give it unity.
For the late summer display, cone flower (Echinacea) is one of the major structural components. Oudolf is showing off many of his own fabulous cultivars: Echinacea ‘Virgin’, ‘Vintage Wine’, ‘Fatal Attraction’ and ‘Green Jewel’. Repetition gives a border energy and movement.
For every bold anchor plant in the border there is an equally important filler plant whose feathery or airy texture is a necessary contrast to the overall design. In every good design it is important not to over-stimulate the senses. Rest is as important as movement. Calamint (Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta) creates a soft haze as it snuggles next to the bold, daisy-like flowers of coneflower (Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’).
One of the greatest lessons to learn from the Oudolf/van der Kloet collaboration is the multi-dimensionality in all seasons. There is not a moment when the garden is quiet and it evolves in a dynamic way from early spring well into winter.
An exquisite mix of early spring bulbs such as crocus (Crocus chrysanthus), glory-of-snow (Chionodoxa forbesii), grape-hyacinth (Muscari azureum) and reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) herald the advent of spring. Once these flowers fade, their fine foliage acts as a perfect foil for late-blooming daffodil (Narcissus) and tulip (Tulipa). The perennials have started to stir and by the time the late bulbs have faded, the robust foliage of phlox (Phlox) and other perennials have enough height to hide the straggly foliage of the bulbs.
Senescence doesn’t have to be an awkward moment in the garden. If well orchestrated, some of the messier scenes in the garden can be camouflaged with the emergence of strategically placed plants. At other times, as in the case of the minor bulbs, the fading foliage can contribute to a subsequent “garden moment.”
The Dutch border is an outrageous celebration of the plant material. Special attention is paid to the color and texture not only of the flower but of every part of the perennial in combination. Colored stems, burgundy and glaucous foliage, feathery and bold shapes all add to the artistry of the design. Oudolf specializes in garden-worthy perennials - plants that grow well, flower prolifically, and then fade gracefully.
In his highly textural and layered design, plants are paired with each other to bring out their best features. The leggy, egg-shaped flowers of drumstick ornamental onion (Allium sphaerocephalon) pair ingeniously with the elegant spires of germander (Teucrium hircanicum ‘Paradise Delight’). Elegant color harmonies make bold statements by combining contrasting light and dark shades such as the rich burgundy duo of bugbane (Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’) and masterwort (Astrantia major ‘Claret’) partnered with the pale, peachy oriental poppy (Papaver orientale ‘Karine’).
These design lessons do not need to be perfected to the level of the Dutch team; they are relevant to gardeners of all levels. Even a beginner can remember to add color accents to borders using spring bulbs and summer annuals. The effective use of foliage, texture and color takes more practice. Gleaning ideas from a designer is a perfect way to start. Choose plant combinations that will complement and support each other (sometimes quite literally) through the seasons. Each plant has specific attributes or features; create plant combinations where these features are celebrated rather than hidden.
Refer to the tab at the top of the page, Seasonal Walk Plant List, for many of the selections that you will find in the border.