Piet Oudolf Interview – Part II

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Musings


A Conversation with Jacqueline van der Kloet

To learn more about Piet, I decided to speak with two people who have worked closely with him over the years.

First on my list was Jacqueline van der Kloet, a highly respected Dutch garden designer especially known for her knowledge of and artistry with bulbs. She initially met Piet in the 1990s: she was writing an article about the perennial, astrantia, and went to his home to interview him about it. What Jacqueline thought would be an hour-long interview turned into several hours of deep conversation about a plethora of gardening subjects. Without ever having met Jacqueline before, Piet suggested that she attend a plant conference with him in Germany, thinking that it might prove to be interesting and beneficial for her. Jacqueline did: and so developed a professional relationship that has continued to grow and flourish for more than 15 years. To this day, Jacqueline marvels at Piet’s enormous generosity.

When Piet was commissioned to design The Battery Park Conservancy’s Garden of Remembrance, few bulbs were initially part of the design, accept for alliums, which he loves. Yet, when he was approached by bulb representatives from Holland about using a sweep of spring bulbs for the opening act of the spring garden, with Jacqueline van der Kloet as the designer, Piet was immediately receptive. His only requests were that the bulbs be in harmony with his plantings. The tulips chosen to be used at Battery Park and later at The Lurie Garden at Millenium Park (where Piet asked Jacqueline to create a lavish display of spring bulbs) were limited to varieties with a life expectancy of close to 8 years.

lurie garden

Throughout our conversation about Piet, Jacqueline’s sentences were peppered with words like generous, curious, perfectionist, experimental and genius. She also talked about Piet’s sense of humor and ability to be flexible and relaxed, like the time they were on a trip together: Piet had made plans to visit gardens for an afternoon but when Jacqueline told him that she was planning to go shopping, Piet, with good humor, went along and spent the afternoon shopping.

The most memorable story Jacqueline shared with me was how Piet and Anja were on site the day the 60-70,000 bulbs were to be planted at Battery Park. It was an incredibly cold, gray and windy day. Along with the volunteers and staff, Piet and Anja, working close to each other, began planting bulbs. But before too long, they each got the hang of how to do it and went their own ways. Jacqueline said that she would never forget the site of Anja bending over with handfuls of bulbs and placing them in the hole.

A Conversation With Noel Kingsbury

Noel Kingsbury has written two books with Piet: Designing with Plants and Planting Design: Gardens In Time and Space. In our conversation, he described Piet initially as a man of few words. He then went on to say that “Like all Dutch, Piet tends to be quiet upon a first meeting but once you know him, he is warm, generous and open.”

Noel, not surprisingly,  said that Piet is a man of many interests and is well versed in a number of subjects. Noel concurred with Jacqueline’s appraisal that when Piet and Anja travel, he has the ability to enjoy other things besides gardening.

I had made the assumption that Piet visited other gardens throughout the world, but I was wrong. Noel said that Piet is always willing to talk about plants and share ideas but that he does not visit other gardens.

lurie garden1

We discussed several of the gardens that Piet created but it is The Lurie Garden at Millenium Park that Noel seems to be particularly taken with, labeling it a “gutsy garden.” He talked about how Piet was not familiar with the native plant material of the Midwest prairie when he took on the project. But because of his tremendous curiosity, Piet learned about the plants indigenous to the region and used them prolifically in this landmark Chicago garden. It’s Piet’s hope that this garden will act as a model for gardeners throughout the Midwest to become familiarized with a new way of gardening and eventually start bringing elements of it into residential and commercial gardens of that region.

Like everyone else with whom I spoke, Noel praised Piet’s work, discussing the complexity, structure and genius of his creations. But when Noel also mentioned the integrity of Piet’s gardens, my ears perked up. He said that Piet easily could have developed a thriving, multi-tiered business but chose to maintain his own hands-on work. He has never wanted to shortcut a client and feels that all of the design, from soup to notes, needs to be done by him. Noel’s final words were: “Piet is a true artist.”

**All photographs supplied by Piet Oudolf

For Part III of the interview, click here.

For Part I of the interview, click here.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at www.fransorin.com.

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Fran Sorin
10 comments… add one

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Frances October 13, 2009, 6:32 am

Ah, Fran, this was like listening to fine music, thanks! We just can’t get enough Piet, and Noel as well. The Alliums were admired by all the garden bloggers in Chicago. I believe many ordered Alliums for their own gardens this fall after seeing them.

Dear Frances-
How right you are about Piet. And it is good news if gardeners started ordering alliums after visiting Battery Park. Fran

Gail October 13, 2009, 8:06 am

Wouldn’t he be a wonderful mentor and friend! Thanks Fran for two excellent posts about one of my favorite garden designers. The Lurie was breathtakingly beautiful when I visited it this past spring. Just looking at photos of the Lurie Garden and others he designed is awe inspiring. Btw, the first photo is knock your socks off fantastic! The red against the purple…sighing with delight! gail

I think that Piet has been and continues to be a mentor to garden designers throughout the world. The third part of this interview will offer links to photos he has up on flick’r. Wait until you see those!! Fran

salix October 13, 2009, 9:12 am

Like so many other gardeners, I cannot get enough of Piet Oudolf. I had the opportunity to visit the Battery Park’s Garden of Remembrance during it’s first year and I am looking forward for a chance to revisit.
Thanks for sharing these great posts.

I visited in June and what can I say??? It is heaven! Fran

Yolanda Elizabet October 13, 2009, 11:12 am

Piet is a wellknow Dutch garden designer (perhaps best known?) and I admire his work greatly, but he was not the only one who started a garden revolution, Henk Gerritsen (Priona gardens) did too and so did quite a few German garden designers who liked to work with grasses and prairieplants and stuff. No man is an island, particularly not a garden designer. 😉

The Lurie garden is on my wish list!

Dear Yolanda-
You are 100% right about that. Piet made that quite clear in speaking with him and I think I included that in today’s 3rd part of the interview. I know Henk’s garden: It is to say the least magnificent and one of the most unusual piece of landscape artistry I’ve seen! Thanks for reminding us about this. Fran

Pam/Digging October 13, 2009, 1:59 pm

I must echo Frances and Gail and mention how beautiful the Lurie was when we visited in spring at the garden bloggers’ convention. I’ve seen it in October too, and it’s just as lovely when the grasses and asters are in bloom.

I’m curious to know why Noel called the Lurie “gutsy.” Is it because Piet had to design with unfamiliar plants, or for some other reason? I’ve never seen any of Piet’s other gardens, so I can’t make any comparisons, which is why I’m curious. Thanks!

I think Noel called Lurie Garden ‘gutsy’ because Piet wasn’t terribly familiar with the native plants of the mid-west. He used the expertise of Neil Diboll to help him learn and consequently planted much of Lurie Gardens with perennials he had never used in a design. That is a gutsy thing to do as a designer. Also, the fact that Piet is always curious, open to new plant material and is not afraid to admit when he doesn’t know something is an admirable trait. I will double check with Noel though to make sure that I’m on target with this! Fran

Town Mouse October 13, 2009, 7:17 pm

Beautiful pictures! Now you’ve really peaked my interest, I’ll be sure to learn more about Piet!

Town Mouse-
Well worth your time to do so. BTW, all pictures were sent in by Piet. So he deserves the credit for that! Fran

Helen at Toronto Gardens October 13, 2009, 11:02 pm

Inspiring post — especially the closing.

Thanks so much. I hope you’ll check out Part 3 of the interview today! Fran

Karen - An Artist's Garden October 14, 2009, 4:55 pm

A lovely follow on to part 1 – thank you

With pleasure. Check out Part 3 today. Fran

Cameron(Defining Your Home Garden) October 14, 2009, 6:50 pm

I love the flowing, soft tapestries of colors and textures. Thanks for posting this.


LINDA from EACH LITTLE WORLD October 14, 2009, 7:55 pm

This proves again that there is no one else quite like Piet!
Agreed! Fran

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