Exhibition: Going Dutch, Garden Museum, London, until February 2011
In the 1990s, a distinctly orange phenomenon known as The Dutch Wave spread through Britain’s gardens, revolutionising horticultural design with a naturalistic approach based on ecology, habitat planting and perennials.
This exhibition focuses on two of the ringleaders – Piet Oudolf, a Chelsea Flower Show champion whose projects included Bury Court in Hampshire and the walled garden at Scampston Hall in Yorkshire, and Henk Gerritson, the architect of the green oasis at Waltham Place in Berkshire.
Described by Garden Museum Director Christopher Woodward as "self-taught geniuses", the men became friends after Gerritson visited Oudolf's nursery a decade earlier, finding plants produced by years of experimentation.
Gerritson was a painter by trade, but had just started his own wild ecological garden. "We'd stay up late and talk about what the ideal garden should be," recalls Oudolf.
Top British designers were enraptured by their eye for perfectionism. "Until the sell-out Kew Conference in 1995, Beth Chatto and the young Dan Pearson were the only designers attuned to their ecological approach," reflects Woodward.
"The Dutch Wave challenged the English pictorial approach that a garden should be like a pretty watercolour painting."
The show aims to investigate the scope of their influence. "We wanted to understand why it's the Dutch – not the French, Italians, Germans or Americans – who have transformed the British approach to gardens and plants in the last 15 years.
"We tell ourselves in England that we’re a nation of gardeners, but cycle around Amsterdam or explore a little Dutch town and you’ll see much more original design and much better plantsmanship."
Gerritson died two years ago, but Oudolf is speaking as part of the exhibition, which also uses film, sound, ephemera and art to trace the history of British and Northern European gardening and the contrasts within it.