Great plants look good dead

That title is a quote from my greatest inspiration, Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. I was reminded of that yesterday when I took advantage of the near-60 F temps and put together a couple of dried arrangements for the house. I had no shortage of material to choose from, both cultivated and wild.

In his books (Designing with Plants, written with Noel Kingsbury), Oudolf stresses mixing up the different forms of flowers when designing plantings — spikes and spires, buttons and globes, screens and curtains, plumes, umbells, etc.

Combining good plants with a mix of these forms makes a good garden in season. Combining great plants that hold these forms into winter extend the season of interest in the garden — and provide great material for arrangements.

My favorites this year include the 4-foot-long spikes of Digitalis ferruginea, the Seuss-esque stacked globes of Phlomis tuberosa, and the curly, hand-like spires of Veronicastrum virginicum. Throw in some curly willow, the rampant teasel, various plumes and spikes of ornamental grasses, sedum umbells, some motherwort, hazel catkins, Verbena hastata and Verbena bonariensis seedheads, and goldenrod stems comoplete with galls and you’ve got and arrangement without half trying. I’ll add a picture next time I have the camera home.

Kingsbury has a new book out Seedheads in the Garden. I’ve only had a chance to skim the pictures, and was amazed how my tastes had already gravitated toward the species he includes.

I’m sure I’ll post more about Oudolf when I get a chance. A similar style has arisen Germany. (See The New German Style.) This winter I also hope to finally get around to reading Hansen and Stahl’s Perennials and their garden habitats, translated from German in 1990, putting the ecological foundation under this aesthetic.

Update: Lousy pix of the arrangements.
\'dried arrangements

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3 thoughts on “Great plants look good dead”

  1. Just found your blog via the comment you left on Garden Rant–and am very glad that I did! I’ve spent a good half hour being delighted by your posts.

    These arrangements are great–and so is the book by Noel Kingsbury, if you haven’t already given in and bought it. Nothing that will surprise you too much, I bet, but lovely to have just the same. I was amazed by how thorough he was re: describing the plant varieties and cultivars that put on the best show when dead.

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