Book of the Month for Feb 2014

Planting: A New Perspective
Frances Burr

Planting: A New Perspective, Piet Oudolf & Noel Kingsbury, Timber Press (April 9, 2013); 280 pp, 268 color photos, 30 color illustrations, hardcover; publisher's price: $39.95, Amazon price: $26.45.

For some time now I’ve been intrigued by the apparent simplicity and casualness of the "New Perennial" movement.  This philosophy is rooted in an admiration of the wildness in nature and seeks to recreate this in landscape design and plant selection.  Its leading figure is undoubtedly Piet Oudolf of the Netherlands — designer, nurseryman, and writer.  This book was written in conjunction with Noel Kingsbury, writer, designer and ardent advocate of naturalistic planting.  To my mind it constitutes the best treatment of the field to date.

The introductory section, “Planting Design for the Twenty-first Century,” effectively discusses the perspective and aims of the "New Perennial" movement.  There are numerous illustrations from various projects that illustrate these points.  A prime example in the United States is the High Line in New York city.  This is a mile-long park built on a section of the former elevated New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line, running along the lower west side of Manhattan. It represents an impressive meld of architecture, engineering, and landscape design that has transformed an unlikely site into a beautiful and highly successful public space.   The plant selections by Piet Oudolf beautify, but interestingly also retain, a state of wild abandon.

Most significant in the book are chapters on how to combine plants. The adopted attitude is that plant architecture becomes the primary consideration — the form in winter is therefore as  important as the form in high summer.  Color is dealt with en masse rather than as floral form.  There are many informative landscape diagrams detailing the plants used and a well-presented,  unique plant directory in chart form listing the majority of plants Oudolf has used and dissecting their architectural merits and growth characteristics.

Before retirement Frances Burr was a research botanist in plant genetics.  She is a member of the Manhattan Chapter of NARGS and gardens on Long Island.