The New Perennial Movement

I’m quite taken with this style in garden design. It got the garden world’s attention a little over ten years ago but has become a ‘here to stay’ type of style in the US more recently. Having been a long time fan of the Dutch nurseryman and designer Piet Oudolf, I’ve followed the emergence of his concept very keenly. Piet is best known for using bold drifts of grasses and herbaceous perennials that are selected for both color and structure. Indeed, his hallmark has often been referred to as the New Dutch Perennial Movement.

The overall effect is one that looks and feels very natural. There is an easy-going, informal ambiance in these gardens. And while Piet is widely acknowledged as the father of this new movement, if one digs deeper, one finds that the ideas are really not so new but Piet perfected it, Between the North American Prairies and the German plantsman Karl Foerster style in the very early 1900’s, one can clearly see the principal influences of the current movement. It is plainly all about using rugged, hardworking perennials and grasses to create a modern, fresh look.

What I particularly like about this style is that not only does it look quite stunning and au courant, it utilizes common and largely native American perennials. The effect is harmonious and natural – which is in keeping with the move towards living more simply, organically and authentically. It is not fussy or overly structured. It feels right. Everyday plants such as Rudbeckias, Solidago, Verbena, Echinacea, Achillea, Eupotorium abound. The grasses being such a vast and diverse family, can be selected to suit taste and climate. Hence, to make such a garden is not only a matter of easily obtaining the plants but the cost can also be easy on the wallet.

The challenge lies in coming up with a planting scheme that appears to flow well and yet, bears some semblance of order. It is easy to go wrong and make it disheveled in appearance. My advice is to start simple and small. Work out the kinks and then expand the scheme. In Piet’s own garden, he brilliantly contrasts the deliberate and thoughtfully created informality with the very orderly and well trimmed green hedges that enclose the garden.

I’m moving slowly towards this style. Sort of dipping my toes in this tide. I’m beginning to feel that I’ll have to take the plunge soon. Over the years, I’ve been adding those aforementioned hardy natives. More grasses are needed – my hesitation is mostly because I’m not sure what will work for my garden and my preferences. I plan to do some major research in that area over the winter. The cool, ecologically sound factor of this type of garden beckons.

Check out Piet’s work at the NYBG and the High-Line in NYC.

I’m adding lots of photos to give a good idea of this type of design. Hope it will inspire and instruct:

In Piet’s garden in Hummelo, Netherlands:





Posing with Piet

Posing with Piet




Piet’s work at the NYBG:



His work at the High-Line:



(c) 2015 Shobha Vanchiswar


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1 thought on “The New Perennial Movement

  1. Didn’t realize both the High Line and NYBG were his designs. Crazy about the look of the High Line. Thanks for posting this.

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