On September 8th my colleague and I went to Lewes, Delaware for a fundraiser for the new Delaware Botanic Garden. The event included a new documentary on Piet Oudolf who designed the garden’s new entry landscape. When the garden opens, sixty-five thousand perennials will greet visitors in an amazing meadow-like design. We received a Master Plan of the garden which shows the phases
Thomas Piper’s new documentary Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf is a creative master piece of the life of the Dutch landscape designer. Piper intricately weaves his film as masterfully as Oudolf creates his designs.
The juxtaposition between Piper’s marriage of filmmaking with the complexities of Oudolf’s planting design allows Piper and Oudolf to create a memorable pairing of each of the arts of filmmaking and garden design. The two are inseparable. The dreamy film shots of Oudolf’s experimental gardens in the Netherlands show the progression of time throughout the year demarcated in
At the beginning of the movie, the simple act of drawing – markers drawing color, shape and form on the scroll of velum showing the ease at which the master’s hand moves effortlessly across the page, also records Oudolf’s own life. The seasoned veteran shows the proficiency and intuitive nature of his work. The drawings are superb works even before they become living gardens. He has given a piece of himself in each creation - in return, garners great satisfaction in knowing that he also has acquired further experience and insight.
Oudolf uses his life-long observational skills to translate each plant in his palette as if they were actors on a stage as he slowly intermingles the characters that interact seasonally until they are cut down towards winter’s end – then the cycle begins again in earnest in the spring.
Durslade Farm is the work that we see Oudolf orchestrating at the beginning of the film. This design becomes the vehicle for his life to unfold in Piper’s masterwork. Durslade Farm becomes the alpha and omega in which Oudolf time travels from a five-year-old boy to a seventy-one-year-old master. The filmmaker tells the story as eloquently as Oudolf conveys it through dialogue, drawings and gardens. Two languages are intermingled within the film with subtitles that show the global appeal of Oudolf’s work. It also represents the duality of Piper and Oudolf – their artistry and trust between the two.
The Lurie Garden in Chicago – a green roof garden on top of a parking garage – is transformed into a landscape painting - ever changing through time. We see Oudolf talking with a horticulturist and giving verbal instructions of how and which plants to shift around, add to or delete. In this natural looking garden, the designer says that “you can’t control this garden but can only conduct it”. The concept of this garden shifts Oudolf’s design philosophy and becomes the influencer for later gardens which include Battery Park and the Highline (left, above and below), both in New York City. The latter garden with its cast of thousands reflects the kaleidoscope of people in New York -
Oudolf says he is in the fall of his life, the most beautiful time of the year when the fruits of one’s own labor are evident and when a plant’s structure is revealed without flower but in the fruits and seed. He carefully studies the late season’s seed and scatters it across the garden knowing at some point he will not be around to see the next years cycle begin again. Oudolf is married to his plants like Piper is married to his film – inseparable until the end, or in death.
Witnessing the thought process of Oudolf is translated to the filmmaker. Piper latches on to the intricacies of Oudolf’s life by creating the back and forth clips of different projects that
The final opus is the opening of the Durslade Garden where Oudolf’s garden drawings are on display. The curator says to Oudolf – have you ever imagined your drawings as part of the display? Piper shows Oudolf looking at his own drawings in the art gallery – carefully curated and showcased in clean, clear, glass cases. The drawings are so meticulously curated that it appears as if Oudolf is viewing himself in the art.
The movie has come full circle – the viewer now gets Oudolf’s view of the garden as Piper pans the scene – the vastness of it all, the bird’s eye view of Durslade Farm. We get Oudolf’s view from the drafting table to the garden view. We have taken the journey with Oudolf and Piper. We have learned that good work comes through patience, continued observation and the knowledge that a master accrues his mastery over time which is the life story and successes of Piet Oudolf.