“This is what you’d like to see in nature.”
Gardens bring us pleasure, even if we have to work to keep them beautiful. Gardens bring a bit of nature close to us, even if it is in an artificial setting. But Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf seeks to make gardens that reflect nature. Filmmaker Thomas Piper has brought us Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf, a visually enjoyable visit to some of the amazing gardens Oudolf has designed.
Piper is a documentarian who has specialized in films about contemporary art. And the gardens that Oudolf designs are truly works of art. Oudolf began with a nursery to grow perennial plants, but in time branched out into designing public gardens that often seem to be like a trip into nature. Oudolf’s gardens include The High Line in New York City, Lurie Garden in Chicago, as well as gardens in London, Paris, and the Netherlands.
The film takes us to some of the gardens he has designed and lets us look over his shoulder as he works on a design for a new garden. In the process we move through the year from winter to winter to see how the gardens change over time. We also come to understand that the beauty of a garden is not limited to the colorful times of blooming, but even when the plants become “skeletons” there is still a beauty to be found. The film also takes us with Oudolf as he travels to see the beauty of nature in various places: the Texas Hill Country during the bluebonnet season, a prairie restoration in Iowa, and a post-industrial forest in Pennsylvania. Here he finds inspiration for his work.
Because the film views these landscapes as art, it is careful to let us see the beauty—not only in the plants themselves, but in the design that Oudolf creates on paper. It also allows us time to savor the visual world, and to reflect on the relationship between humankind and nature.
There is a certain poetic feel to the film that invites us to consider the way nature enhances our lives and also how we fit in to nature. This is especially true as the film moves into the second winter, because at that point it gives us time to reflect on death—death that exists in nature before newness comes, and the death that is inevitable in every life.
Photos courtesy Argot Pictures