Piet Oudolf Plants a Seasonal Border at New York Botanical Garden

A favorite feature at New York City's biggest public garden gets a fresh look

Sue Roman, produced by Antonio Reis

Piet Oudolf planted a new border at the New York Botanical Garden conservatory, and we got the chance to ask him a few questions about his process.

FG: Why revise the original border that you had already designed here?

Piet Oudolf: We build a border for only one season. This border ended up staying for four years because [the NYBG] liked it so much, but the plants began running out of steam and out of proportion. Something had to be done, so they asked me to design another border with a different scheme.

We’re now making a border that feels more intimate with a different range of plants—tall plants, tall grasses, and plants that you might not have seen before. We create groups of good combinations and then repeat them throughout. At the same time, we want to expose or show the plants more as an individual. This is more clear yet still reads as naturalistic.

FG: Can you give us some examples of new plants in this design?

PO: We have a new Actaea, Actaea ‘Queen of Sheba’. It’s a cross between a Chinese species and a black Atropurpurea and has arching, white flowers in autumn. We have tulips, a Lilium species, Eremurus, and Allium nigrum. All of the bulbs are more related to the species or are the species instead of being cultivars, which makes the design lighter. The cultivars can be very dominant.

FG: Would you say that this border is a little more floriferous than your usual designs?

PO: It probably is. This design is about perennials, it’s about plants that flower for seasonal interest. Many of these plants flower but are also interesting for other characteristics. For example, the Amsonia or the leaves of the Actaea, the Filipendula, the grasses—they all have a unique characteristic that makes them beautiful whether they are flowering or not.

We also extend the seasons by using late-flowering perennials like Molinia ‘Transparent’ and Rudbeckia subtomentosa. It’s a mix of plants that start early and grow through the season.

FG: This border has been designed so it’s interesting for a very long period, but do you think there’s any one peak time, a time in the year when this border will look its best?

PO: No, not just one time. Spring is a peak when you see the bulbs bloomed, summer is a peak with all of the flowers, and winter is a peak when you can see all of the skeletons. There are peaks, but definitely more than one peak during the year.

To check out this border for yourself, visit the New York Botanical Garden.

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