Piet - ‘Life of the garden’

By Rhys Williams

A special local screening of Five Seasons – the Gardens of Piet Oudolf, ignited a discussion about the beauty and ambience gardens provide for the community, and to also be conscious of the environmental footprint they have.

The Corowa Tree of Life Community Garden and Regional Design Service held a sold-out screening of the documentary about revered landscape architect Piet Oudolf – who has designed famous gardens across the globe, perhaps most notably New York’s Battery Park and High Line. 

The strong cinematography helped immerse viewers in Oudolf’s work as the documentary goes inside his creative process, from his beautifully abstract sketches, to theories on beauty, to the ecological implications of his ideas.

Introspective discussions take place throughout all fours seasons as it traverses the life cycle of a garden, which Piet still says he is able to see the beauty during its decay.

It features visits to his own gardens at Hummelo, and to his signature public works in New York, Chicago, and the Netherlands, as well as to the far-flung locations that inspire his genius, including desert wildflowers in West Texas and post-industrial forests in Pennsylvania.

As a narrative thread, the film also follows Oudolf as he designs and installs a major new garden at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, a gallery and arts center in Southwest England, a garden he considers his best work yet.

The screening at Federation Cinema was received warmly as the room erupted in applause upon its conclusion.

A panel discussion with architect Phillip Nielsen, president of the Community Garden Sally Hughes and landscape architect Robyn Butcher, followed the screening as they shared their thoughts on the documentary and how it can be relayed in our own domestic context.

“Formally with garden design you used to do it some much more detailed, similar with how Piet works here which is really working with communities, whereas more contemporary stuff can be mass plantings of things which usually causes such issues for ecological and environmental concerns,” Ms Butcher said.

“If things like this can be influential across the board, you’ll get so much more out of it, not just experientially walking through it but for all the wildlife and bio diversity as well.”

Sally Hughes, emboldened by the screening, shared her inspiration and insights on how she would like to expand on some of this learning and apply it locally.

“It absolutely ignited something within me,” Ms Hughes said.

“Everything in Piet Oudolf’s gardens sets your senses on high alert – the smell, the colour that he creates and the rustling of the grasses, it’s just an amazing overall experience that he’s able to do with an overall natural feel.”

“We (the community garden) have had the inspiration from Piet Oudolf’s gardening design to create a garden using our local native ground covers and shrubs in front of our fence.

“Ultimately, we want to make our local species more available to our community,” she said.

Community was a big theme of the documentary which is something Mr Nielsen wanted to make point of, referencing how the community in New York City were the ones responsible for coming up with the idea to transform a decrepit old railway into a burgeoning park, and now one of the cities major draw cards for tourists and residents.

“The residents were the ones who held a competition to reimagine what the High Line could be.

“It’s people like the Community Garden in our region that get us to reengage with landscape and to work together.

“knowing that this film has inspired the Community Garden look at what they can do, that’s where the real power is.”