The Swiss couple, Iwan and Manuela Wirth built the Hauser & Wirth Art Gallery on what was an abandoned farm on the outskirts of Bruton in Somerset and commissioned Piet Oudolf to design the gardens around it. From the beginning they made it clear that they didn’t want a garden to simply accompany the gallery but wished to have gardens that people would wish to “hang around in”, not simply an adjunct to the gallery but an attraction, in their own right.
There are three large areas to the gardens: The Farmyard, The Cloister Garden and The Oudolf Field and it is this latter section which is the subject matter of this book. In contrast to the two other areas, The Oudolf Field is quite hidden, only visible when one approaches through the gallery, so it comes as a surprise and its positioning indicates it is part of the art display. Indeed, Piet Oudolf’s design drawings for the garden are on display in the gallery and the iconic fibreglass pavilion, by the Chilean architect Smiljan Radic, along with the renovated and repurposed farm buildings, serves as its background.
Piet Oudolf was in the vanguard of that post-war resurgence of an ecologically inspired movement in horticulture which harks back to William Robinson’s pleas for a greater naturalism in our gardens and he describes the field as a “naturalistic planting… a stylized evocation of nature, nature as we would wish to see it.” He also recognises the paradox of this description for, though it may be natural in appearance, continuing maintenance is essential to maintain this picture of nature.
This evocation of nature, this garden art installation, is a perennial meadow with meandering and wandering pathways coaxing the visitor to explore further than the gravelled broad main walk. Seventeen beds were planted with 26,000 perennial plants including, as is the trademark of Pied Oudolf, many grasses but not a single tree nor shrub. There are some on the periphery which give a sense of enclosure and bond the garden to the gallery buildings.
After the introductory chapters – the background story, the design concepts and plans – a major part of the book is given, very interestingly, to the actual gardening of a Piet Oudolf creation with descriptions of the garden season by season and an account of the work of each season. This is something I have not previously seen in other publications on Piet Oudolf gardens and it gives a unique insight into how the garden developed and how that development was maintained so as to keep the garden true to the original concept. It especially requires that the gardener understand the vision of the designer and garden in a manner which maintains that vision and that is different to how most of us keep our own gardens, so quite interesting, insightful and thought-provoking.
“English gardening, at its heart, worships youth and yearns for eternal spring – for as long as possible it attempts to conceal all signs of ageing and decay – but Piet’s work focuses on the beauty of herbaceous plants after they have performed as much as when they are still in colour. At no point in their life-cycle are they taken off stage – the point is to relish their appearance at all stages of their growth.”
There is a substantial Plant Directory which mimics Piet Oudolf’s original plant list and will be a valuable resource to gardeners searching for robust, reliable plants which do not need to be staked – an absolute requirement for Piet Oudolf who also, by the way, says that “a plant is not worth growing unless it looks good dead”
A very enjoyable book, well written, well illustrated and beautifully produced as we have come to expect from Filbert Press.
[Planting the Oudolf Garden at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Rory Dusoir, Foreword by Piet Oudolf, Photography by Jason Ingram, The Filbert Press in association with Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2019, Hardback, 208 pages, £30, ISBN: 978-1-9997345-3-4]