Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf – Film Review
by Pat Viale
Opens on Friday, June 21st, 2019
If the Chelsea Flower Show and Bloom have whetted your appetite for all things horticultural, Five Seasons, Thomas Piper’s documentary about Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, is the film for you. Piper’s film is a “must see” for plant lovers and explores Oudolf’s interest in informal garden planting and his ambition to create a naturalistic landscape in his gardens where shape is as important as colour and which would look equally well all year round, in bad light as well as good.
The film follows, over the course of a 15 months, the seasonal changes in Oudolf’s own gardens in Hummelo, a village in the Dutch province of Gelderland, and the creation of a new garden he is currently installing in south-west England. Oudolf’s planting style involves including swathes of perennials and grasses into his gardens and his deep knowledge of how plants grow allows him to choose combinations that will change and create different harmonies throughout the year. For him the skeletal shapes and unusual seed pods some plants form in winter are equally satisfying as their colourful flowering in mid summer.
Oudolf took quite some time to find his vocation. Until his mid twenties he worked in a bar and this was followed by a series of unsatisfying jobs in factories. It was only when he found a job in a garden centre that he discovered his passion for plants. With his wife as principal wage earner, he experimented with his planting, testing his designs and even developing new perennials. As his reputation grew he was selected to design prestigious gardens throughout Europe and beyond, including the Lurie Garden in Chicago and the High Line in New York.
Oudolf’s narration throughout the film is never pretentious and he comes across as a man who is passionate about what he does but has no great interest in the kudos or attention that comes with it. He tells us his aim is to get people to really look at plants, not to be infatuated just by colour or scent, but to appreciate them in all their aspects. “I put plants on stage,” he says. “And I let them perform.” Piper’s cinematography is remarkable. His slow camera work captures the extraordinary beauty of Oudolf’s gardens and many of his individual frames are as exquisite as an Impressionist painting.
Five Seasons is not a film for everyone. You need to have a love for plants and gardens, or, at least, to be open to the idea of being won over by the passionate enthusiasm of Oudolf as he explains the ideas and the process behind his imaginative creations. But make the effort and you will certainly be rewarded. This is an impressive film that informs and instructs and makes us look more closely at the everyday beauty that surrounds us.