In March 2018, Ray Sander, president of Delaware Botanic Gardens, sent a letter to the Garden Club of America in support of Piet Oudolf’s nomination for their Medal of Honor award. On May 19, the Garden Club of America announced that they have bestowed their Medal of Honor to Piet Oudolf.
Oudolf, renowned Dutch horticulturist and garden designer, has now received one of the highest honors bestowed by the Garden Club of America (GCA), the Medal of Honor. Presented at the GCA’s annual meeting on May 19, the medal is awarded for outstanding service to horticulture.
Considered a leading figure in the New Perennial Movement, known for herbaceous plantings and robust perennials and grasses chosen for structure and color, Oudolf is recognized for his design of the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park in Chicago (2004) and the High Line in New York (2006). Considered one of the top garden designers in the world, he has also created public gardens in England, Sweden, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada.
Oudolf is credited with shifting the way people view garden design, garden maintenance, plant selection and gardening education.
“For me, garden design isn’t just about plants, it is about emotion, atmosphere, a sense of contemplation,” said Oudolf. “I like to escape some of the rules around gardening — to provide thought and spontaneity and pleasure.”
In the 1980s, Oudolf and his wife, Anja, started a nursery to complement his design studio in Hummelo in the eastern part of the Netherlands. There, they began to experiment with a wide range of perennials and grasses, allowing them to breed plants based on qualities such as color and architectural value, as well as pest and disease resistance.
Now into his 70s, Oudolf shows little sign of slowing down. Recent projects include the transformation of an old soybean field into a two-acre meadow at the Delaware Botanic Gardens, set to open in 2019, and a design for a new public garden on Detroit’s Belle Isle, a 2.5-acre project that sits in the international waters of the Detroit River between Canada and the United States.
In support of the nomination, Sanders wrote, “Piet Oudolf’s body of work is a manifestation of the very best of horticulture. His designs capture the dreamscape of color, motion and beauty. His landscapes create spaces of intimacy and immersion within a panorama of masterfully cultivated gardens.
“Piet Oudolf’s emphasis and commitment to native species and perennials has reignited a growing consciousness among gardeners at every skill level about the ecological interconnectivity of plants and the overall environment. Recognition by the Garden Club of America is not only warranted by his magnificent garden designs but also by his environmentally sound and ecological balanced methodology.
“His 2 acre Meadow design at the Delaware Botanic Gardens (DBG) calls for over 65,000 herbaceous flowering plants and grasses, with 85 percent of them native and 15 percent pollinator compatible exotics. In this time of environmental stress, Piet Oudolf is exactly the caliber of horticulture leader who has earned the GCA Medal of Honor.
“Piet Oudolf’s participation in the creation of the Delaware Botanic Gardens has been a significant enhancement to this emerging garden’s potential to achieve a level of financial sustainability. As the first Oudolf designed garden in the Mid-Atlantic region, DBG has received national and international attention, even though the gardens will not be open to the public until 2019.
“The anticipation and excitement created by Piet Oudolf’s participation in our ‘garden to be’ has been amazing,” Sander added. “Successful horticulture can be measured on a variety of standards. In the challenging environment which public gardens confront, horticulture needs also to be judged by the scope and involvement of people and skills that are attracted to the garden. Piet Oudolf’s Meadow has already created a community of leading designers and construction experts.
“This community also includes our individual, corporate and foundation donors who have been motivated and our network of volunteers from across the country who have been inspired. Once the public sees the iconic, multi-season Oudolf Meadow, we have no doubts that the community that has been started by Piet Oudolf’s creation in Delaware, will spread far beyond the borders of our state.
“Lastly, while Piet Oudolf would deflect accolades like genius and world leader, he is a singular individual who remains modest and extremely approachable. His caring approach with people and plants mark him as the personification of all that is good in horticulture.
“On behalf of the Delaware Botanic Garden’s Board of Directors and our emerging garden community, I proudly support the nomination of Piet Oudolf for the GCA Medal of Honor.”
Named by Architectural Digest in 2018 as one the top 100 designers in the world across disciplines, Oudolf is an acclaimed author of more than eight garden books, including “Gardens of the High Line: Elevating the Nature of Modern Landscapes,” co-written with botanist Rick Drake.
His many honors and awards include the Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award in recognition of the planting design for the restoration of the High Line (2010), the Association of Professional Landscape Designers Award of Distinction (2010), the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds Price Award (2014) for his contribution to the culture of garden and landscape design, and a Kew Guild Honorary Fellowship (2015).
The documentary “Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf,” produced by filmmaker Thomas Piper, follows Oudolf through five seasons. It shows his creative process and approach to garden design and planting at his home studio and garden in the Netherlands and through travels to some of his other gardens including the Lurie Garden and the High Line. The film also follows Oudolf as he designs and installs a major new garden at Hauser & Wirth Somerset in southwest England. The film was awarded the Polly Krakora Award for Artistry in Film in 2018.
Oudolf received the prestigious 2019 Society of Garden Designers Lifetime Achievement Award, granted for his outstanding contribution to the landscape and garden design profession.
“A garden is exciting for me when it looks good through the year, not just at one particular time,” said Oudolf. “I want to go outside and for it to be interesting in all weather, in early spring and late autumn.”
Previous winners include Henry Francis DuPont and P. Allen Smith. Oudolf was nominated by the Garden Club of Michigan.
The GCA is a nonprofit national organization composed of 201 clubs with some 18,000 club members who devote energy and expertise to projects in their communities and across the United States. Founded in 1913, the GCA is active in horticulture, conservation, creative arts, historic preservation and environmental protection. For more information, visit www.gcamerica.org.