Learning plants and design from a good book

Here in New England winter is long, especially for gardeners. We want to be outside in the garden but most days we can’t really do much. I compensate by learning about gardening from books. I recently finished a good one, “Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life,” by Piet (which is pronounced Pete) Oudolf and Noël Kingsbury.

The cover of "Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman's Life," by Piet Oudolf and Noël Kingsbury.

With more than 400 pages, it might seem daunting, but I’d estimate that nearly half of those pages are color photos of the gardens Oudlof designed, with plenty from his home in Hummelo, Netherlands. It is written by Kingsbury, a well-known British garden writer, and by Oudolf himself.  

Oudolf was the primary designer of the High Line gardens in New York City, a garden planted on a section of an abandoned elevated railway line in midtown Manhattan. This 1.45-mile planting is consistently rated in the top 10 most visited places in New York City.

The famed High Line gardens in New York City, designed by Piet Oudolf.

The book follows Oudolf’s life as a garden designer and plantsman. In addition to the High Line, he designed gardens in Chicago and Detroit and many in Europe. The book follows his professional life and illustrates the changes. Many plants in the photos are not labeled, but more advanced gardeners will recognize them, and many are mentioned in the text. Although some common names are used, most are identified by the scientific names with the genus, species and cultivar, which I find helpful when studying the plants and finding out if they are hardy in my zone.

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