A longtime exhibitor at the Venice Biennale, Piet Oudolf has raised his profile in recent years, designing standout projects like New York City's High Line. We caught up with him after the publication of his newest book, Landscapes in Landscapes (Monacelli Press), a retrospective of public and private work.
Why did you include plant lists and plans?
I wanted people to be able to see how ideas change in a garden. There is a lot going on after the first design. You can see the progress in the working drawings. Practicality is a big part of this book.
You aren't afraid others will steal ideas?
I don't mind giving away ideas. I love to see people get inspired.
What's the key to introducing emotion into a garden design?
I try to make gardens to be like a painting you can enter, and that maybe reminds you of something you almost can't recall … like going into the fields or the forest as a child.
You're known for your unrivaled understanding of plants. What are your all-time favorites?
I love Joe-Pye weed, echinacea, baptisia—not just when they flower but when they come into seed. Even when the seedpod is eaten off by the birds, they are still beautiful. And they change your garden from spring until winter. They are hard workers.
That's one of your principles, that decay is part of it and can be beautiful. Why do we remove it?
That is strange to me. Ask yourself, why cut this back if it still looks good?
What advice would you give first-time gardeners?
Don't design right away. Start by collecting; try everything you like and see what works.
Do you wear clogs in the garden?
I used to. The wood is very insulating, and they are easy to step out of when you are going into the farmhouse.