BREAKING NEWS – Oudolf rips out hedge shock …and the joy of pleasing the inhabitants of Bexhill-on-Sea.

– Posted in: Garden Design

Written by Noel Kingsbury

Click here to see Piet Oudolf’s iconic hedge last week.

This is how we are used to seeing it – the ‘curtain’ hedge at the back, as featured in books and countless magazine articles.

And here it is going into a shredder:

Piet tells me it had got 20cms of water last August (remember the geography lession, it rains too much and The Netherlands fills up), and began to go brown this winter. Well, I know that yew does not grow well with us here in Herefordshire where we have up to 2m of rain a year and slowish drainage, so it is not surprising that ?phytophthora set in. So goodbye hedge. I said to Piet it was getting to be a bit of a cliché, and he agreed. He doesn’t stand still for long.

Piet seems to be getting used to the idea of life without the hedge, there is still beech behind to shelter from the road. He seems to be less and less reliant on the ‘modernist formality’  he inherited from Mien Ruys (see Fran’s post about this very innovative Dutch designer here). I can see how he might have felt he has reached the end of the road with this approach, but for the rest of us, I’m not sure. We have so little real contemporary geometry and clipping in the UK, that a lot of us welcomed the creative tension between it and the perennial plantings we saw in his work.

The fundamental fact is though, that good ideas can become clichés all too quickly. The Oudolf hedge was being copied, usually badly. Best to move on. We should too. Which brings me to the seafront at Bexhill-on-Sea, the south coast town where I had to face down a  raging mob last year (see my post on this), a place where people had just got used to something and did not like change. I now hear from my colleages at HTA Landscape Design that the planting has survived the winter and that the locals are even expressing their appreciation. See some more pictures here.

There – that’s better than tarmac, a low wall and a few beds of marigolds isn’t it?

Moral of these stories…… we shouldn’t get used to things staying the same; plants grow and die and time moves on.

Noel Kingsbury

Noel Kingsbury

Noel Kingsbury is a gardener and writer based in the west of England. Author of over 20 books, including four collaborations with Dutch designer Piet Oudolf, he is passionate about wild-style planting and bringing nature into the garden.

Noel Kingsbury

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Susan in the Pink Hat May 22, 2011, 9:08 pm

Change is good. I have heard all the arguments for hedges as essential elements for the garden. The only thing that hedges do are make gardens look more English, which is great if that’s what you’re going for. For the rest of us, any major departure from hedge-dom is good.

catmint May 23, 2011, 7:06 am

change is good, brings anguish, anxiety and opportunity. Piet is my hero.

htalandscape May 23, 2011, 8:53 am

re bexhill on sea – fear of change is ususally fear of failiure – it won’t work! it can’t work! what if it doesn’t work? – What is the answer? Have vision, lead from the front and listen to good advice when you are given it. Thank s for all the good advice Noel! See some more pics on our blog soon.

Cathy May 23, 2011, 9:21 am

Change brings innovation and creativity. I, for one, will be anxious to see what Mr. Oudolf does with that area. Robert Browning said it best…. “… the best is yet to be…..”.

Petra Hoyer Millar May 24, 2011, 2:13 am

As per previous comments, I can see the point of change being for the good etc. Certainly if the plant has issues in its location, or is not thriving (any longer) then removal is best. Though admittedly, it is rather sad to see such an infamous piece of garden architecture demolished. I disagree with the point of it becoming a cliche – yes it was being copied the world over in various (often poor) guises, but that does not make the original a cliche. Iconic buildings, architectural styles are copied every day, though that does not make the original a cliche, nor should it be removed for it. Naturally, as most, I am keen to see what he does next, which undoubtedly will become the next gardening cliche.

franniesorin May 24, 2011, 11:31 am


I would guess that there’s little time for nostalgia when Piet is designing; the essence of his creative spirit moves too quickly to dwell on what was, rather than on the possibilities of what’s to come.

For all of us who follow Piet’s creations, we wait to see how the removal of his famous hedges will faciliate him in creating yet another extraordinary piece of art.

Thanks so much for funneling this information to all of us. Only you could have made it happened! Fran

Chookie June 2, 2011, 3:27 am

Bexhill-on-Sea brings to mind Minnie Bannister’s adventures there. I am glad nobody coshed you with a batter pudding!
Phytophthora is a major pest in some of the natural ecosystems here; there are eradication programs underway in parts of Western Australia. Not sure how successful they are!

william martin June 14, 2011, 4:49 am

I always thought those hedges were at odds with Piet’s so called ‘prairie’ style.

That’s a really interesting observation, William. Of course, the Prairie Style was developed from a Netherlands perspective where topiary is worshipped. But it does give the scene a certain edge, no? When I move on to tackle the part of my backyard that isn’t a meadow, I had planned to do a hedge (partly as a windbreak), but now you’ve got me thinking…—Tovah

william martin June 14, 2011, 8:52 am

Tovah most hedges are too dense to be an effective ‘windbreak’..they merely relocate that wind somewhere else..My part of the world is known for its winds right throughout the year (only half an hours drive to the Southern stop Antarctica) I reckon a loose shrubbery (oh how very unfashionable) of maximum height 12-15ft to do the best job and they do NOT require annual clipping!

“I wouldn’t mind sending the winds over to someone else,” she said in a small, squeaky voice. Only kidding — I love my neighbors. But what’s a little wind among friends? My whole property is loosey goosey. I sorta had something tighter in mind for the hedges.–Tovah

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