Like most things, garden design has its trends. From the 1700 French parterre gardens to the English ‘Gardenesque’ to the modern day ecological style, garden design has always reflected the current mindset of what nature is. What is so fantastic is there are places like the Chicago Botanical Garden (CBG) that allows us to see and experience these past and present gardens. From the Bulb Garden to the English Walled Garden or Native Plant Garden to the Prairie each section of CBG has a unique and special personality. Just like nature itself, garden trends are ever changing to reflect the changing mindset. The landscape architects here at ILT Vignocchi do endless research, reading and continuing education to try to stay on top of those trends. Doing this not only makes sure we stay ahead of trends, but helps us make sure every garden we do from Lake Forest to Evanston to Hinsdale is one that is unique and special.
During our research there is one garden designer in particular whose work we have grown to love, Dutch designer Piet Oudolf. Anyone who has spent time in the Laurie Garden downtown Chicago knows of Piet’s work well. As he, along with several other well respected designers, was the driving force behind that spectacular garden. What makes his work so great is, what I have been calling, his “contemporary native” (or as Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough call it “Enhanced Nature”) approach to garden design. The next generation of gardens will match the changing mindset and will be sustainable, have a high level of Biodiversity, and be a bit “wild.” However, it is realized, and Piet emphasizes, as designers it is our job to focus relentlessly on shapes of flowers and seed heads, then leaf shape and texture and lastly color (leaf color more than flower color which Piet considers an added bonus) to help tie garden elements together to a more homogenized look.
A look that is more contemporary or enhanced than the word “wild” conjures in our heads. Structure is the key to a successful garden which is why the initial emphasis is on the shape of flowers and seed heads. Colors come and go throughout the year, but sound structure persists in a garden all year. Consider this, as the bright and bold yellow petals of the Black-eyed Susan’s fade and fall off what is left is a brownish-black cone that adds emphasis and accent to a late summer garden. This accent persists adding a fourth, often not thought-of, season to the garden – winter. This is also why ornamental grasses are so important to this style. Ornamental grasses can be used during the growing season as a way to create repetition to tie the garden together. However, it is the grasses that give a winter garden so much structure during the cold months.
Like with any new style care has to be given to how and where this style has value. One size never fits all and one person’s “wild” is Goldilocks’s “just right” and vice versa. Several of the Piet Oudolf books we have read and gardens we have studied have provided us a style map for his new approach. A style map that we will store in our “Kit of parts.” We will use this, and parts of this, style where appropriate while knowing that more traditional styles, such as the English garden, still have their wonderful place among garden history and current garden design.