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Can a garden be brown?

 Un articolo sul New York Times (e poi trasposto su La Repubblica) racconta delle qualità che un giardino può acquisire in inverno, quando le piante che lo compongo diventano più “magre”  e marroni. Piet Oudolf, un garden designer (così viene definito) di origini olandesi, racconta di come per lui gli scheletri delle piante siano non meno importanti dei fiori.Eccovi l’articolo 




By Sally McGrane




The Netherlands-On a cold jannuary afternoon in this tiny village near the German border, the garden designer Piet Ouldlf put on  a heavy coat and led the way out of the 1850s farmhouse he shares with his wife , Anja, and into his garden. After a few steps he stopped and pointed with pride at a stalk of dead fennel standing in the bed of moribund, wheat-colored joe-pye weed. “Normally, people who garden would have cut this back by now”, he said.The skeletons of the plants are for me as important as the flowers”. 


For mr. Oudolf, in fact, the real test of a well composed garden is not how nicely it blooms but how beautifully it decomposes. “It’s not about life or death” he said, admiring the dark twisting linesof the fennel. “It’s about looking good”. Over three decades, mr Ouldolf’s sometimes unconventional ideas about what looks good have helped make him a star in Europe-where his work has inspired “an ecology meets design” gardening movement called New Wave Planting by its followers- and have also begun to win him fans ad jobs in the United States. He has done the planting design for important new gardens in the Millenium Park in Chicago and the Battery at the soutern tip of Manhattan, and for the oark that will cover the elevated High Line rail bed on the Lower West Side Manhattan when it opens in september.


 These landscapes, like all his projects, embody and advertise his fundamental aesthetic doctrine: That a plant’s structure and form are more important than its color. “He’s gotten away from the soft pornography of the flower”, said  Charles Waldheim, the director of the landscape architecture program at the university of Toronto. “He’s interested i the life cycle, how plant material ages over the course of the year”, and how it relates to the plants aroundit. Like a good mariage, his compositions must work well together as its members age.”Most of the people think in a formal way: if you put A and B with C, it will work like htis-but only at a certain moment in time”, said James Corner, chairman of the department of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and director of Fields Operations, the New York firm working on the High Line with mr. Ouldolf and the architecture office of Diller Scofidio & Renfro.  Mr. Corners said that one reason he saked mr.Oudolf to do the project’s planting design is that the way he selects and composes plant “is thought through not only in terms of summer, but also in terms of winter-all 12 months are interesting”.


In mr.Oudolf’s own garden, the dead and dormant plants of midwinter are sculpuralbut not harsh, poignant but peacefull, standing out against the quiet, almost monochromatic whole in subule of aresting ways.Down a path from the house, a round brick planter holds towering Malepartus maiden grass, whose brown, drooping blades bring to mind some Shakepearean ghost. Farther along, through tall, boxy jew hedges with tops trimmed to mimic the sloping landscapes’s three line, the garden opens into mr. Oudolf’s “perennial meadow” – three crcular beds, each with a different mixture of perennial plants and ornamental grasses. “Perennials are so dynamiche said. They’re quick. In one year you can see the whole life cycle.”Mr.Oudolf works a lot with species native to North America, and many of the plants here came from the American prairie.Wandering through the garden beds, the palette of browns , from light to near black, brought out the richness of the plants textures. “You see a lot with dead plants”, he said. “The shapes and forms, the seed heads in contrast with the grasses. When it freezes it looks even better”. Mr Oudolf has named more than 70 new plants-one of them, the dear Anja sage, for his wife-and the nursery is still in operation. But he is clearly as much arttist as scientist.


 One of his books, “Designing with Plants”, includes chapters on “The Sublime” and “Mysticism”. Looking out over his perennnial meadow, mr Oudolf articulated in this way:” You look at this, and it gies deeper than what you see. It reminds you of something in the genes-nature, or the longing for nature”. Allowing the garden to decompose, he added, meets and emotional need in people.” You accept death. You don’t take the plants out, because they still look good. And Brown is also a color. 




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