Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Garden by Acclaimed Landscape Designer Piet Oudolf


The search for something beautiful to photograph invariably takes me to the Toronto Botanical Garden each fall. 

The Entry Walk Garden by renowned Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf is always at its best at this time of year. No matter how many times I visit, it never fails to inspire me.

In the past, I was never a fan of the contemporary landscape design that I found in large gardens and public spaces. It seemed to rely too much on elaborate hardscaping and modern art pieces for its drama. Plants always seemed relegated to a supporting role.

Part of Piet Oudolf's genius has been to shift the focus back on the plants themselves. A proponent of the naturalistic movement in landscape design, Oudolf is known for incorporating native plants and grasses into gardens reminiscent of wildflower meadows.

The Entry Walk at the Toronto Botanical Garden was Oudolf's first project in Canada.

The commission was not without its challenges. The Entry Walk is not a big space- you can walk its length in a manner of minutes.  Located opposite the main parking lot, it's not ideally situated either.

But the tall grasses and the huge stands of Joe Pye Weed Oudolf has incorporated in the Entry Walk's design have a way of enclosing the space, and despite its awkward location, you feel as though you are in a world apart when you are in the garden.

Let's take a look: 

As you will see in my pictures, a striking silhouette is key consideration in Oudolf's plant selection.

Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium purp. maculatum: Joe Pye Weed can grow to incredible heights and has large rose flower heads in late summer/early autumn. Tough it likes moist or wet, boggy conditions, it still manages to grow well in the Entry Walk's somewhat dryer soil. Full sun or light shade. Height: 210-300 cm (82-117 inches), Spread: 90-120 cm (40-50 inches). Hardy USDA Zones: 3-9 (Note: If you have a smaller garden, you may want to consider Baby Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium dubium 'Baby Joe'.)

A Monarch Butterfly visiting a Joe Pye Weed flower.

There are no identification tags in this part of the garden, but I feel pretty certain this is Meadow Blazing Star or Liatris ligulistylis (not to be confused with more common Liatris spicata). Monarchs really seem to adore this plant!

Liatris ligulistylis: is a perennial native to the Canadian Prairies and blooms in late summer/early fall. Full sun or light shade. Height: Liatris ligulistylis can reach 1.2 to 1.8 m (4-6 ft), Spread: 30-38 cm (12-15 inches). Average to moist soil. Hardy USDA Zones: 3-7.


Perennial Fountain Grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides: has arching green foliage and soft mauve flowers that turn beige as they mature. Full sun or light shade. This is a grass that is adaptable to a range of soil types and will tolerate dry, average or moist growing conditions. Height: 90-120 cm (35-50 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (20-35 inches). Hardy USDA Zones: 5-9

Annual Fountain Grass, Pennisetum setaceum 

Clouds of Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia and Sea Holly, Eryngium

Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia: has upright greyish foliage and violet blue flowers in late summer/early fall. Bees adore it. Russian Sage prefers full sun and heat. Average to dry conditions. Height: 90-150 cm ( 35-60 inches) Spread: 60-90 cm (20-35 inches) Hardy USDA Zones: 4-9

Japanese Anemone

Japanese Anemone and Mountain Fleeceflower, Persicaria 

Feathery grasses mix with BurnetSanguisorbia 

Burnet, Sanguisorbia officinallis 'Red Thunder' (Rosaceae)


Sea Lavender or Limonium latifolia

Verbena bonariensis and BurnetSanguisorbia 

Verbena bonariensis: Is a drought tolerant perennial that is usually treated as an annual here in southern Ontario. It is a prolific self-seeder, and for this reason, it is often viewed a problem plant in some parts of the U.S. Butterflies and bees love it! Full sun. Height: 90-120 cm ( 36-48 inches), Spread: 38-45 cm (15-18 inches) USDA Zones 6-10

Verbena bonariensis and Mountain Fleeceflower, Persicaria 

For me the delicate clouds of texture and color in Oudolf's Entry Walk Garden speak to modern design's softer side. There is nothing clean lined or hard edged here.

Unlike a traditional approach to design, individual flowers do not compete for your attention in the gardens that Oudolf creates. Instead there is a harmonious mix of lighter notes. The overall effect feels soft, pretty and playful.

I always come away inspired to loosen my grip on convention and incorporate more of the same feeling in my own garden.


  1. What spectacular gardens these are, Jennifer.
    I love all of the pinks and purples.
    It is always such a pleasure to visit you here!

  2. Wow! I love this post. Just today I was talking to someone about Piet Oudolf. His gardens are wondrous. I agree that the focus of modern gardens too often rely on hardscape, rather than plantings. Oudolf is a refreshing designer, and hopefully more garden designers will be inspired by his work.

  3. This is a really beautiful garden, thank you for showing it to us. This form of soft planting is very popular over here too, I'm trying to change my side border to be more like this, I still have some way to go!

  4. Pure magic in this garden Jennifer! It reminds me why I love to garden! You have listed some fantastic plant combinations up there that I have made notes of and be still my heart look at all of those butterflies! Just stunning! You captured them in the most amazing light! Hope you are well friend! Thank you for the inspiration! Nicole xo

  5. What a beautiful collection of plants! I love all the purples! I have to try growing Joe Pye Weed and Russian Sage again. I've never had much success with either.

    Thanks for all the lovely inspiration!

  6. Very nice post with a real Piet Oudolf collection of plants, but most beautiful are all the Monarchs on the Meadow Blazing Star, wonderful!

  7. So beautiful! I just love it! I have several of the same plants. I have lots of verbena b. but don't view that as a problem. I can share the seedlings with friends or just pull them. I've killed liatris lig before, which is embarrassing because it's supposed to be easy to grow. I rescued a huge corm from a spot that was being shaded by huge stands of phlox and moved it a sunnier spot. I hope it finally thrives.

  8. I seem to only see this garden in the dead of winter. While interesting it does not compare to the beauty you have captured here. I have now added 3 more plants to my wish list for next year!

  9. I am a big fan of Piet Oudolf's gardening techniques. Sometimes they are daunting when trying to incorporate his ideas into a smaller garden, but it can be done!


  10. I love his work the garden at Pensthorpe in Norfolk its a sight to behold - unfortunately there is nothing to see in winter and I think that is where his idea falls down a little. Let me have your email address and I will send you the carrot chutney recipe.

  11. A very beautiful looking garden with some lovely plant combinations. Your photos featuring the butterflies are especially pretty.

  12. Wow...beautiful gardens and photographs! You have captured the plantings beautifully and I love your photos of the Monarchs. Thanks so much for sharing.

  13. Just spectacular! I really enjoyed this post and all your stunning photos, Jennifer!
    Thanks so much for sharing. :)

  14. I forgot: your photos of the Monarch Butterflies are AWEsome! :))

  15. Love the combo of Persicaria and Verbena bonariensis! My introduction to Oudolf was visiting the Lurie Gardens in Chicago 5 years ago. I was a garden newbie then, especially when it came to famous gardeners and designers, and I immediately fell in love with this place. By the next year I had added Baptisia, Amsonia, and Salvia to my garden, all inspired by his designs. Like you, Jennifer, I like the natural look of his designs.

  16. What a pretty garden, especially at this time of year – and I love Russian sage, although I have to just admire it on your photos, it’s not a plant for my garden sadly. Lovely to see all the monarch butterflies, I have never seen one for real, we don’t have them over here.

  17. Jennifer girl hello there !
    Our Halloween was very quiet .. cold and windy but no rain thankfully .. our rain barrel needs to be emptied and turned upside down for the winter .. so many chores to do , so little time ? LOL
    I am always drawn to Oudolf's hand in designing .. especially when I am so like minded with ornamental grasses, Joe Pye, .. sedums of course are all Fall spotlights for me.
    My garden is a mess though and it needs a strong hand to get some order and readiness for the winter to come ... BIG sigh ! Can you believe this year has flown by so quickly ... I spent 3/4 of my time waiting for the landscaping to be done ... so I truly hope to hit the ground running next Spring with not too much damage hopefully. I rearranged my Joe Pye, some Russian sage and a few other bits and pieces .. fingers crossed I can get the last of the bulbs in SOON !!
    Good luck with your garden too girl !!
    Joy : )
    PS ... you always shoot such beautiful scenarios with the plants !

  18. What an amazing garden, Jennifer. We visit Longwood Gardens, Philadelphia, where there's quite a bit of the modern stuff you mention. It is pleasant, but they recently opened an amazing meadow walk. This is a trend I'm happy to see. Your photographs are lovely. P. x

  19. What a beautiful and inspiring garden! And wonderful photography too! I've never commented here before, but I've been admiring your blog for some time. Thanks for the inspiration! I've got to add some Russian Sage to my garden - I have the perfect spot!

  20. Jennifer, you showed beautiful Toronto Botanic Garden, I thought I have to visit it' if one day I come to your country!
    I suppose Piet Oudolf is the great designer, lovely herbs, blur plants as sage perovskia, tall trees.
    Thank you for sharing!

  21. Jennifer your pictures have inspired me as I have many of the same plants but I need to think of the design so differently. What an incredible garden.

  22. I have admired Oudolf's work for some time now. Your pictures make my admiration stronger.

  23. What a lovely deconstruction of the elements Oudolf uses in his work. I only discovered him this week as I've been looking for ways to build a new garden for my MCM ranch home. My dream would be English cottage garden, but the house really doesn't carry it coherently, so I've been searching for how to design a mid-century yet lush, flowering garden. This post has led to some great plant options and combinations (via bhg.com as I look up each plant), so I think this might be doable after all. I shall be Oudolf in the front, but English in the back where neither I nor the passing public can see the garden and the house at the same time. :)


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