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Landscape designer Piet Oudolf on finding solace in the garden

As the weather warms, gardening is providing a dose of sanity and fresh air for people who have been cooped up amid the coronavirus pandemic. Piet Oudolf, one of the world’s foremost landscape designers, is deeply familiar with the restorative properties of gardening. In a virtual visit, he talks to Jeffrey Brown about how plants can provide nourishment for both body and spirit.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally tonight: In the midst of these turbulent times, and as more people start to venture out, gardening is providing a bit of sanity and fresh air.

    Jeffrey Brown talked recently with a man known for the gardens he's created around the world, including at New York's hugely popular and influential High Line Park.

    The story is part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.

  • Piet Oudolf:

    Iris iberica. Let's see, if we go into the garden, and we see they have grown accustomed to coming out.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    For everyone who's been locked down, spending too much time indoors, a visit to the garden.

  • Piet Oudolf:

    Amsonia tabernaemontana. (INAUDIBLE)

    Hello, Duffy.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And not just any garden, but the personal creation of Piet Oudolf, one of the world's most renowned landscape designers.

  • Piet Oudolf:

    They are not afraid.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Also, this being springtime, the birds and bees are busy.

    I'm outside, you're outside, but we're not together this time. Too bad.

  • Piet Oudolf:

    Yes, it is. There's so much happening at the moment, so many things coming to flower.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK, I recognize this. Great.

    This was actually a virtual revisit.

  • Piet Oudolf:

    You recognize the tunnel where we were in?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes.

    This is the original?

    Last year, we had an old-fashioned personal tour of the farm in the rural town of Hummelo, in the Eastern part of the Netherlands near the German border.

    It was winter then, but for Oudolf, the garden is ever alive, a place of emotion, changing shape, texture, color, different, but wondrous in every season, as he told me now from the studio where he draws his designs.

  • Piet Oudolf:

    Talking about seasons, the moment you understand gardening and you are a gardener, then you — then every day is special.

    I think every day is an experience, because there's always something you will like, and it's not only about the plants. It's also about the light and the movement.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The world has looked strange these past months, familiar places no longer familiar at all.

    Last year, we visited Amsterdam's world-famous Rijksmuseum, normally a busy crossroads, now a few bikes forced to keep their distance. One of the park-like spaces Piet Oudolf designed, Chicago's Lurie Garden, remains closed. The plants still need tending, the spring bulbs prepared for next year's bloom.

    Many people have turned to their own or community gardens during this period, growing vegetables and flowers, nourishing body and soul. Gardening centers have been among the first essential businesses to reopen. Sales of seeds have soared.

    Piet Oudolf isn't surprised.

  • Piet Oudolf:

    Once you touch the plants and just start to work with them, there's a big chance that you get lost in the world of plants, and that you want to experience more of gardening.

    You can think while you're gardening. You can think about life and how to follow up after this crisis.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Since we spoke to Oudolf, the world has changed yet again, with mass demonstrations in the wake of the killing of George Floyd bringing thousands of people into the streets.

    But it remains unclear what kind of impact the pandemic will have on the design and use of urban spaces and on the public's willingness to be in close proximity.

  • Piet Oudolf:

    You see, there's so many people, and if you look at how much distance they should have, so we still don't know what to do.

    But at least people want to go to places where I normally would go to, to gardens and to parks. And I think that people will realize that we, as human beings, need that, to feel good.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Oudolf can't travel now, but he's still working on designs for gardens around the world.

    I asked what advice he has for amateur gardeners.

  • Piet Oudolf:

    It's pleasure and entertainment at the same time. And the garden is a sort of performance. So, it's beautiful, but also beautiful to do it in your own way.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Performance, that's an interesting way of thinking about it, huh?

  • Piet Oudolf:

    I think it is a performance, or not. They show up and they go away. They leave the stage after a few months, especially plants, if you look at these plants, amsonia. In three weeks time, there's no flower anymore.

    Then the seeds come. So it's also that the changes of character of a plant is important for how you make a garden. But what I say for people that just start gardening, I think anything that you see at the garden center that you like can be a good start of — to become a serious gardener.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," and with the hope of being once again in the garden with Piet Oudolf, I'm Jeffrey Brown.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What a beautiful place. So wonderful to see that.

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