Sunday, June 25, 2017

Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke, Gardens of the High Line

I'm writing this post to recommend an amazingly beautiful book, Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke (Timber Press, 2017). Oudolf, one of the hottest landscape designers in the world, was the main designer of these gardens, and I believe Darke is responsible for the gorgeous photographs. The result of their collaboration may be the most beautiful garden book I have ever seen.

The other reason I am writing this post is because I recently learned, through a professional project, about the modernist tradition in landscape architecture. There is such a thing, and the dominant tendency is the creation of landscapes that look natural, except better. There are parklands around Washington that were carefully laid out in this way, but until I did this recent study I had no idea that they had been landscaped at all. They just look natural; that is, until you take time to consider how the trees vary in shape and height, how well placed the dogwoods are to light up the spring woods, how the Fall colors sparkle. Piet Oudolf is a master of this style; every plant along the mile long High Line was carefully selected and placed, and much of the result looks like the above: a meadow, you think, not much different from the weeds that grew here before the park was built.

But these landscapes bloom in unnatural profusion, with stunning variety.

They have interest in every season.

Including winter, because many plants were chosen for their interesting, long-lasting seed pods. The meadow plants are not cut back until early spring, just before they start growing again.

Given the limitations imposed on the designers – this is after all an elevated rail line, unsuitable for large trees, exposed to a hostile urban environment – the result astonishes. And this book brings it vividly to life.

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