Piet Oudolf + Tom Piper: Five Seasons in Conversation
We recently hosted world-renowned Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf for a special conversation with filmmaker Tom Piper on the making of Piper’s documentary Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf. Piet walked us through his private gardens at Hummelo while answering questions from Tom and a live audience (you can view the two-part conversation here and here).
Now, we’re honored to share the film in its first public release for at-home viewing. An immersive and meditative documentary, Five Seasons reveals how Oudolf’s revolutionary landscape designs upend our conventional notions of nature, public space, and, ultimately, beauty itself. It’s an incredible opportunity to get an otherwise-impossible insider look into Piet’s gardens from all over the world. We had the chance to catch up with the two men after the Instagram event to get a deeper insight into their experience making the documentary and answer a few more of your questions.
terrain: Hi Piet! Thank you so much for joining us here on The Blog. Did filming Five Seasons change your design process at all?
Piet: Oh, no, I’ve been designing gardens for over 40 years, so I’ve had a lot of practice at staying focused!
terrain: What were your initial thoughts when you saw the documentary for the first time?
Piet: I would have loved for the documentary to be longer! We filmed for more than two years so there is a lot of footage that didn’t make it in. But Tom captured my gardens so beautifully; I loved seeing them come to life. I also enjoyed experiencing my travels again, like watching the footage of the wildflowers along the road in Texas.
terrain: Hi Tom! Thanks so much for chatting with us. When filming Five Seasons, were there any moments or shots that didn’t go the way you planned, but in the end you were happy with how it turned out?
Tom: The most fortuitous surprise in making this film was that Piet’s garden for Hauser & Wirth in Somerset just happened to be the project that I could capture from start to finish. It was fortuitous both because he considers it one of his best gardens but also because it was for a such a prominent art gallery, it provided a more spontaneous context to address the question of whether gardens can be art, or Piet can be considered an artist, rather than have to be too didactic about it.
terrain: After you revisited the same gardens through the seasons while filming, did anything in particular stand out to you or surprise you in the way they changed?
Tom: The most memorable moments in Piet’s personal garden were always during winter. Seeing it with Piet helped bring it into focus, but I particularly love the way the palette becomes more monochrome and the structure of the plants becomes almost like mark-making, something like Cy Twombly drawings. That and the rattling soundtrack of the stalks and seedheads in the wind were really unforgettable.
terrain: Can you talk to us about any garden projects you have in the works? How has your work been impacted by Covid-19 stay-at-home orders?
Piet: I’m always working on several projects at once. Right now I’m working on a garden in Mallorca, Spain and my garden on Belle Isle in Detroit is getting prepped for planting this fall. I also have a public hospital garden in Denmark—it’s five acres of rooftop gardens for patients to enjoy. I am lucky that I can do my design work from home, but I definitely miss traveling to my gardens to see the progress.
terrain: Regarding your work at Chillida Leku, how did you approach incorporating your designs into another artist’s personal landscape?
Piet: It’s nice to work within the art world but what I do is separated from that. I’m less influenced by the art itself as art in general; it’s more of the context. For example, with the Highline, I was inspired by the city itself rather than anything specific. Every artist has their own vision and a method for how they create.
terrain: What was it like to watch Piet sketch? Did you learn anything about his process by watching?
Tom: I had to sort of tip toe my way into being able to shoot while he was sketching. That’s obviously such intensely focused time for Piet. The last thing he needs is the distraction of being filmed, but I think because of the way I shoot—it’s nearly always just me—it’s a little less intrusive. But because I come from a background of making films about artists (and not gardens or garden designers), his work alone in the studio felt very familiar to me. So his intuitive, iterative approach to translating his ideas to the page was actually what I was expecting. It took me a little while to appreciate how unusual that process is among other working designers who typically have an office and teams of all working together on multiple projects. One thing l loved was getting a sense of the wide range of music he listens to while sketching, which, unfortunately, couldn’t be included in the film because of how expensive music rights are!
terrain: Did working with Piet on this documentary inspire you to either create or update your personal garden?
Tom: It has certainly inspired me to want to have a garden. At the moment, we only have a small Juliet balcony in our apartment in Brooklyn, but it’s loaded with containers. My wife is from Brazil and she clearly has a need to recreate the rainforest inside our apartment. There are literally moments where we have to fight our way through floppy tropical foliage to make it across a room.
Ready to be inspired? Click here to start watching Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf now!