Dutch Landscape Designer Piet Oudolf Makes his Mark on the New York Botanical Garden
NYC&G: The Seasonal Walk at the New York Botanical Garden [NYBG] is a 200-foot-long double border. What’s its purpose?
Piet Oudolf, landscape designer: We first created a garden in this area of the NYBG five years ago as a summer garden—good for one season—but it ended up staying in place for a couple of years, even though the plant choices were intended for a much shorter lifespan. Then Todd Forrest, the NYBG’s president of Horticulture and Living Collections, contacted me about doing a garden with longer seasonal interest. The Seasonal Walk is alive through all four seasons, except for the period when it is cut down in the spring, just before the bulbs come up. It’s a little different from my plan for the High Line, where a more natural approach takes precedence.
What has been planted for winter interest?
Mostly plants that start flowering in late summer and aren’t deadheaded. A little manicuring in late fall leads the garden well into January, if not later. One hellebore and a few snowdrops in January can keep you happy, although that wouldn’t be the case in the summer. If you’re not an obsessive gardener, then you can accept what happens in a garden naturally all year long. But I never truly accept everything. It’s still a garden!
Why is it important to see the life cycle of plants in a garden?
Plants look good together at all different stages. It’s more about the balance that you see—not just when plants are in flower, but their skeletons, the seed heads, and the like.
Is there a color story?
No, we didn’t emphasize any color, like all blues or pinks; colors come on and off through the seasons.
What new cultivars have you planted?
We’ve planted a new small white Joe-Pye weed, Actaea ‘Queen of Sheba’, a new phlomis, and Anemone ‘White Swan’—plants that I haven’t used before in the U.S. It’s good to test out new plants, even if it’s a bit of a risk.
How does this project differ from your work at the High Line?
At the NYBG, there is more built-in control, especially in the Seasonal Walk’s double border, since it’s more of a garden feature. The landscape at the High Line is more naturalistic. As a garden designer, I’m not an independent artist—people come to me with specific needs. I listen to my intuition and think, What is the best thing I can do for this space?
A version of this article appeared in the October 2014 issue of New York Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Border Patrol.