When I met a friend for coffee recently I was reading the book pictured below when she arrived at the shop. She asked what I was reading and I showed her the cover — which she stared at blankly, the usual response of non-gardeners. Though the title page of the book includes the phrase, "A Journey Through a Plantsman's Life," you'd be hard-pressed to find a serious gardener these days who doesn't recognize the name of Piet Oudolf, the most famous gardener working in the world today, and his equally famous home garden, Hummelo, in the Netherlands.
I'm not really sure when I first heard of Oudolf but I know I bought my first Oudolf book, "Gardening with Grasses", co-authored with Michael King, in 1998. But it was my first visit to the Lurie Garden in Chicago (next two pictures below) that made me understand just how differently Oudolf was thinking and planting than the rest of us. If you've been to that garden or the High Line in NYC, among other of Oudolf's creations, you know what I mean.
Over the years there have been a number of books that showcased Oudolf's designs or told us how to create our own version of them. But it's only now that we finally have a book about Piet, a man who says, "only footballers have books written about them." Noel Kingsbury, who has collaborated on design, research and writing with Oudolf, co-authored this book as well.
"Oudolf Hummelo" is a joy to read on any level. It's intelligent, amusing, educational, well-designed and stuffed with images. I would say it is a very Dutch book. It's certainly an un-American garden book when you compare it to the steady stream of coffee table books that fill the shelves at bookstores. First of all this is a small scale book in the garden publishing world, given its famous subject. It's only 7" x 9 and 1/4" in size, though it's a hefty 1 and 3/4" thick. The paper is matte rather than shiny and most photos do not have cutlines.
As well as giving us a history of Oudolf's career and his evolving design concepts, the book introduces us to many of the gardeners and nursery people who inspired Oudolf. I'm guessing that many of these names will be unfamiliar to you if you only know American and UK gardens and gardeners.
What I found particularly satisfying about the book is the way it is laid out with dozens of short pieces interspersed throughout the book. These cover everything from the gardeners I just mentioned, to the china the Oudolfs' collect, to Piet as a photographer and to various aspects of his planting styles (block, matrix etc.) All in all a book that belongs in your library and one you will pick up again and agin after your first reading. Well worth the hefty price tag of $50.00 in the U.S. It's published by the esteemed Monacelli Press and was printed in Slovenia.
One last thought: The picture above — taken by Piet Oudolf — shows dead flowers, including echinacea, in his own garden. This scene is so gorgeous it almost looks like a painting and is certainly proof that Oudolf's attention to using plants that "die" beautifully has a great deal of merit.
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Editor's note: I purchased this book on my own because I am a big Oudolf fan and did not receive any remuneration for this post.
Note: Locally the Sequoya Branch Library and the bookmobile have copies of this book.