Piet at Pensthorpe

Summer days seem long gone on Autumnal Mondays like today when my garden has been dull, wet and windy. The leaves have been falling off the trees at a great rate and the bare bones of the garden are starting to appear once again. Ah… but do I have a summer treat for you that I have kept back especially for a day like today…

A huge smile came to my face as I looked through my holiday photos of our visit to The Millennium Garden at Pensthorpe in Norfolk, England. This visit was made all the more special as we had visited Pensthorpe for the wildlife and huge fan of the Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf that I am I had no idea he had designed a garden there! On checking my link for him I see his website now shows images of this garden and some others too.

I was like a girl looking through the sweet shop window as the shop was about to close when we discovered this garden – we were about to leave for the day. I was standing in front of the entrance gate! Nope… I just couldn’t rush this garden. So, with such anticipation in my heart I turned around and walked away to return again a few days later.

Piet designs in a naturalistic way with grasses and huge drifts of the same plant or colour – oh if I only had a spare field! Most would probably say that the pictures I have shown here are not this garden at its best but that now is the best time to see it with its seed heads, dry grasses and cobwebs. That is definitely what I would have thought too looking through the books on my bookshelf. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away with his bold use of colour too.

I absolutely adore his use of form and shape in his plantings like the spires used in the photo above. They are repeated again and again weaving their way into the distance. Walking through the different heights and blocks of colours is just quite magical.

Mixing foliage textures in his planting even in areas with less ornamental grass ratio absolutely captivates me. Much of this can be scaled down and work in our own gardens. I always play around changing my plantings anyway but oh… to have a field.

Large block plantings of water lilies in the pond and lush foliage with dots of strong colour around it looked fantastic especially with the almost black foliage plants almost mirroring the surface of the water. Oh… I’ll stop chattering on for a moment and let you look in peace at a few more views from this wonderful garden.

This last selection of photos will wake you up with a start if this garden has made you a little dreamy! This is mid July colour and what a riot it is too. What an absolutely fantastic contrast to the huge weaving blocks of dusky flowing ornamental grasses. The red monarda was the plant that really caught my attention.

I am absolutely thrilled to be able to share my garden visit with any Piet fans reading this. I know I have thoroughly enjoyed my visits (through blogs) to other Piet gardens including his own private one – thanks Yolanda.

If you are new to Piet’s style of gardening I hope that you too have enjoyed this tour. If you want to read/browse some of his books – my bookshelf proudly holds the list of books below. Ah… and if you are looking at plants and plans for your own garden next year I hope this gives you some inspiration.

Dream Plants for the Natural Garden by Henk Gerritsen and Piet Oudolf.

Designing with Plants by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury.

Planting a Natural Garden by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen.

Gardening with Grasses by Michael King and Piet Oudolf.

Oh… but wait a minute this garden style celebrates movement in the garden. Okay, you’ve twisted my arm… here’s some video of the garden too. Unfortunately moving the camera on plants that are already moving makes for less than perfect resolution after processing. However, the photos above in no way show the scale of planting in this garden or the true height of the plants.

Watch out for the few people I caught walking around the garden with me as they will scale the garden for you. I really hope you will enjoy the walk too.

Finally, I do have one more posting to come from my visit to Pensthorpe which will be on the birds. Sorry, I’ll have to keep you waiting a little longer for that one.

The video and photos above were all taken on July 22nd 2008.

28 thoughts on “Piet at Pensthorpe

  1. Hi Shirl, I am so glad that you found it dull wet and windy today. I just loved this tour of the gardens. Your video did it justice. The photos were quite good too. I enjoyed it all. I can’t wait to see the birds now. I hope it keeps raining. 😉

  2. Hi Shirl, who needs television with your posts around? I am a new fan of Piet and have three of the four books you listed. I reconize many of the beds you have shown in the books too. But the best line ever is your…oh to have a spare field! LOL. It is hard to use those principles of mass plantings in a small yard already full of plants, but I am trying. ;->


  3. Shirl – absolutely delightful – thank you.

    I’m going to be in Norfolk (for some birding) in a few days time – fingers crossed I’ll be able to visit

  4. A perfect start to the day to look at you homage to Piet!

    Now, have you visited The Walled Garden at Scrampston in Yorkshire. If you haven’t then it should go to the top of your list! Awesome!

    And then there’s Piet own garden and a huge new project in Luxmbourg…


  5. Hi again Lisa, Frances, Tricia and Celia 🙂

    Lisa – Sorry Lisa, we have blue skies this morning – although not as warm looking as yours yesterday. We’d like a break from the rain here. I am glad you enjoyed your tour of Piet’s garden. Seeing as you would like to see the birds and Tricia below is going to that area this week I’ll try to get a posting out before the end of the week. If not I’ll sort it for next week 😀

    Frances – Delighted to be your entertainment channel – LOL! I could easily see by the photos from your gardens with your choice of plants and the way you plant them that you could be a potential Piet convert. Welcome to the clan 😉 LOL, I liked the line too although in reality I’ve fancied a spare field for a long time – sad person that I am 😀 Yep, I hear what you are saying and my garden is much smaller than yours so I tend to follow plants or colours through into adjoining beds and change this planting around every so often for different effects. I do love the creative side to gardening and I am guessing you do too 😀

    Tricia – Thank-you, and you are most welcome. Great to hear you are going down to this area. I am glad you left a comment today. I really cannot praise Pensthorpe enough. It is well laid out, so much of interest and has masses of birds that just wander around you as well as special ones for conservation etc in aviaries. Of course the fact that my daughter had a bag of feed (that you can buy for £1) did influence her ‘Pied Piper’ role with the ducks ;-D We visited over two days (although not full ones). There is so much to see and to follow all the walks around the park you need plenty of time – we didn’t do them all. I saw dragonflies for the very first time around the back of the larger pond. We also had a very nice lunch there and took the Landrover/trailer tour around the estate too. I do hope you get the chance to visit (I’ll try and post on the birds before you go to give you a taster) but if not I am certain you will have a great birding visit to this area 😀

    Celia – I was hoping you’d stop by. This is in your neck of the woods isn’t it? I’m glad I could start your day with my indulgence 😉 Ah… no I haven’t visited Scampston so thanks so much for the thumbs up on that one! The next time we are anywhere near that area we will take a detour there! Looking at the website it looks a great place. Perhaps I should add some more Piet Garden links to my posting. Ah… his own garden, yes I do hope to visit that garden one day – hopefully with Yolanda which would make it a very special visit. I’ll keep an eye out for the new one in Luxemburg. I’d also love to see his Chicago Lurie rooftop garden – yes the garden visit list is a long one 😀

  6. Gorgeous – I have read a few articles about Piet but its lovely to see so many photos of one of his gardens. I had got an impression in the past that they were predominantly grasses but the colours of the perennials really show through. I wonder what they look like in the winter though!

  7. Shirl,

    You’ve made my day. Thank you. I’m a long-time fan of Piet Oudolf and have seen photos of Pensthorpe in his and various other books, but your photos and, especially your movie clip, bring it to life. I really appreciate being able to see more of the way the garden is structured and the scale of the plantings. I only wish I could afford the plants required to make those massive, monocultural blocks of plants he uses. I suppose I have to find a way to do more of my own plant propogation.

    This posting is like a gift. Thanks again.

  8. I loved the video. I like Oudolf’s grass planting but more so when he includes lots of flowering plants – then the effect is superb. I’m particularly keen on the height he achieves with the very tall grasses and perennials that are normally stuck at the back of the conventional flower border. He puts them to the fore where you can really appreciate their beauty and the way they move in the breeze.

  9. I’m in heaven!
    Yor photos made my day.
    I’m digging deeply into his dreamplant-book at the moment, discovering that a huge amount of the plants listed will surviv up here in the north. This man really has shaken my ideas about gardening and plants. A hero!


  10. OOOOOOH! Indeed, “Oh if I only had a spare field!” I loved this garden–what a treat for you to happen upon a Piet garden where you were not expecting one. Thanks so much for sharing it with us–sorry that it is a dull, cold and wet day in your own garden, but it is to your blog reader’s benefit for sure. 🙂

    By the way, in the picture with the gazebo… just after you say you’re going to “stop chattering” (nonsense!) and let us see some pictures… what is the dark purple planting behind the sedums? I’m afraid that you’re going to say that they’re dark leaf barberries (because I’ve sworn not to plant those here) but I love that look in the garden!

  11. Hi again Karen, patientgardener, James, easygardener, Marie, Hilde and Kim:-)

    Karen – Brilliant! It feels so good to share 😀

    patientgardener – I’m so glad you enjoyed it and I have been able to show you this garden for real. Yes, the colour was fantastic – that was a surprise to me too. Ah… but the winter months will see this garden almost frosted in time, misty with magical cobwebs. I love that look in a grand scale but perhaps couldn’t go for it in my small garden.

    James – You are most welcome – I am so glad. I completely understand this style of planting isn’t to everyone’s taste but if you like it you adore it and I just had to share these real images. I knew you would be in the adore camp ;-D You certainly look like you have the space for this scale of planting and with your wonderful trees as an extra backdrop. Yep… I would tend to agree that propagation (perhaps by lots of division) would be your quickest route for the mass planting schemes. Oh… you have a wonderful exercise ahead of you – good luck with it! Wow… ‘like a gift’ that made my day 😀

    easygardener – Great, I’m so glad the video has been a hit as I know the quality isn’t the best. I posted it as it showed the scale and essence of the garden better than any photo could. Yes, I also like the mix of flowering plants but I really didn’t expect to love the strong reds of the monarda quite so much! Yes, I agree, I do like the non conventional order of planting heights – it just changes the perspective on all the plants doesn’t it? Walking past plants changes to walking through them and that is just such a wonderful feeling 😀

    Marie – Thank-you, I’m so glad you enjoyed them – it was tricky picking which ones to use 😀

    Hilde – Oh… glad you made it here today – from memory I thought you liked Piet after seeing something in your Blotanical plot. I had planned to pop over to tell you about this. Oh… enjoy Dream Plants – that is my favourite! Yep… as I said above those who like Piet’s gardens absolutely adore them – I hope he knows this 😀

    Kim – LOL, yep I wonder if there are enough spare fields for us all!! Oh Yes, on holiday I always want to take the opportunity to visit gardens that are in the area but I am very much aware that it is a family holiday. I had one garden visit planned for this holiday which I forfeited for this one and it was a tricky call. I had wanted to make a return visit to Beth Chatto’s garden (a two hour drive) and I cannot say which I would have enjoyed more. But I had never seen a Piet garden and it was just half an hour away! I was very sorry to miss Beth’s Garden but the surprise of quite literally discovering Piet’s will always make my heart flutter! I’ve mailed you with the original photo of the plant in question – sorry I cannot decide what it is. I love the look of it too so if you mange to ID it I’d love to know too 😀

  12. Gardens designed by Oudolf are like paintings, full of harmony and light colours. I regret not having a big park, otherwise half of it would be filled with grasses of all sorts and in large drifts 😉 !! Unfortunately I don’t manage to see the video. Perhaps I should try again tomorrow!Thank you for these beautiful and very impressive pictures!

  13. This is simply delightful, Shirl. I saw one of Piet’s gardens in Chicago a year ago this month, and the grasses were in full bloom and the coneflowers were dying beautifully, just as he planned. But it’s great to see one of his gardens in summer, with the coneflowers and bee balm in full color and the grasses not yet at peak.

  14. Finally the garden that came as such a big surprise to you on your hols. 😀 It’s great Shirl and it reminds me very much of Piet’s own garden and his nursery too as most of the plants I see here, are grown in his nursery.

    Loved the vid; a gorgeous garden always goes so well with classical music, don’t you think?

    Good gardens look great all year round and I think after seeing your pics and vid most gardeners wished they had a field and some spare cash to plant it up with an abundance of plants. 😀

  15. Hi again Barbara, Pam, Yolanda and Hello mothernaturesgarden & Pam 🙂

    mothernaturesgarden – Oh yes, woudn’t it be wonderful to have that much space 😀

    Barbara – You are so right, he really is an artist in every sense of the word. Sorry to hear you couldn’t view my video – hope you had better luck another time. You are most welcome, it is great that I can share them in this way 😀

    Pam – I am glad you have enjoyed it. Great you got a chance to see his Chicago garden – I’d love to see that one too. I’d also like to see one of his gardens in the winter with frost and spiders webs – however this summer garden at Pensthorpe was a real eye opener for me. I found his use of colour quite stunning.

    Yolanda – To YE that waits 😉 Looking at your posts again I can definitely see similarities in plants. Glad you enjoyed the video music – I struggled with my choice for this one but kept coming back to classical. I agree it probably was the only choice. Yeh, there is definitely a cash issue with a field – but hey it is only likely to be a dream for most of us anyway 😀

    Pam – It was, I am sure you enjoy browsing your books. I am delighted to be able to let you browse the garden for real 😀

  16. What great pictures you take! It is not easy to capture the size and sweep of an Oudolf garden and still get the texture of plant combinations.. I have been back and forth looking over several days since you left the message. Thank you for doing so…Gloria

  17. What great pictures you take! It is not easy to capture the size and sweep of an Oudolf garden and still get the texture of plant combinations.. I have been back and forth looking over several days since you left the message. Thank you for doing so…Gloria

  18. Hi there Garden girl:-)

    I am so glad you stopped by to see it. There really was so much inspiration in this garden, I agree 😀

  19. Hi Shirl

    Great picture’s of Piet’s garden; stunning planting.

    This might seem like a daft question but please could I ask you what month where you there?

    The reason I ask is that I am putting together a garden design for a garden show in June 2009 (My very first attempt at a show garden). Most of the garden will be the Stipa variety known as Angel Hair, and I am a little worried that have misjudged ths plant and it might not have the height I need in June.

    What do you think? I’d really appreciate any tips you could offer.

    Thank you

  20. Hi there Beck:-)

    Thank-you, I agree the planting is stunning 😀

    Wow… that should be fun attempting your first show garden! Stressful too I bet. Good luck with that – I can understand your research at this time.

    Not a daft question at all. These photos were taken on July 22nd. I am not familiar with the Stipa Angel hair but in my Scottish garden the grasses do put on a lot of growth between June and the end of July. I couldn’t say if it would be tall enough. I don’t know how Dublin compares as a growing season.

    If there any other queries on dates of photos I usually have them mentioned at the end of a post in grey italic text.

    All the best with your garden – do let me know how you get on. Are you going to blog your progress after it is completed that would be interesting to read 😀

  21. So pleased you visited by blog so that I found yours. I am a big Piet's gardening style and have been lucky enough to visit sveral of his gardens including his own. My slope planting is a lttle in his style. thanks for sharing your visit to Pensthorpe which is perhaps my favourite of his gardens. Christina

  22. Piet Oudolf is one of the most influential garden designers around and you can see why from the photos and the video.I did intend to plant everything in drifts in this garden when we started it in 2007 but I think you need a bigger garden to do that style justice. Thanks for the tour…

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