University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Perennial Publications : Book of the Month

Planting the Natural Garden
Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen.  2003.  Timber Press, hardcover, 144pp.

Ornamental gardens that appear "natural" have become quite popular, beginning a few years back in Europe as a result, in part, from the first edition of this book.  Now revised and updated, it is available in English. The two Dutch authors are known world-wide for their garden designs in this style, known abroad as the "European Wave."  This book follows their previous ones on Designing with Plants and Dream Plants for the Natural Garden.  In it they cover over 600 tough perennials and ornamental grasses suitable for their natural appearance.  They then provide short descriptions, and groupings, for ten rather unusual naturalistic themes.  These themes include such as lush, airy, exuberant, and wonderful.  Finally there are some different practical listings by latin name of plants such as for exceptional properties, good neighbors, and plants per given area. The book alone is worth having just for the inspiring photography of the authors.

Although the text has been translated quite well and clearly, there are some issues in applicability to our gardens one often finds in such translations.  One finds references for instance to birds attracted to such gardens, most of which we don't have in this country.  Although the plants chosen and recommended are excellent, perhaps 10 to 20 percent (more with some genera) are not readily available, if at all, on this side of the Atlantic.  Hardiness and growing zones are a key limiting factor in our gardens, yet this information is not given in the plant descriptions.  Flowering times seem accurate, yet often cover a broad range of perhaps 3 months, so it is hard to tell in a specific area when something might bloom.

I find their listing of plants per square meter (think just over a square yard) a nice concept, yet wonder about some of the recommendations which seem for an instant effect.  While I would place one Baptisia in such a space, they recommend 3; 7 Helenium where I would plant perhaps 3; 5 to 7 asters which might work for New York species, but I would only use one New England species in this space.

Yet if you are a somewhat experienced perennial gardener, conversant with Latin names and some familiarity with cultivars and hardiness in your locale of species, this book will serve as a useful source of ideas. 

Where am I?  Perry's Perennial Pages | Publications | Book of the Month