“New Wave” gardening is an innovative style that mixes nature and architecture, creating various looks depending on which plants are used, but always giving a wonderful impression of controlled freedom. Plants of the same kind and color are combined in meandering bands and narrow swaths, resulting in the look of an impressionist painting.
The “New Wave” style of planting, pioneered by Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, draws its inspiration from the horizontal brushstrokes of a painting. Oudolf and his followers base their trademark style on vast and massive undulations, composed of large groups of flowering or colorful foliage plants. Wave plantings are essentially made up of perennials, annuals, and grasses; shrubs and roses are rarely used in this style.
Groupings of plants, whether in the form of islands, more or less regular rows, or large swaths, play against each other to produce a bold overall effect. Each section is composed of a single plant variety, selected for flower shape or color or the texture or hue of its foliage.
The wave garden’s undulating look is to a great extend due to the use of perennials whose supple leaves, whether broad or finely serrated, verdant or silvery, sway in the wind. This effect also be created by using ornamental grasses, whose stalks and seed heads not only take on a tousled and fluid appearance as they rustle in the breeze but also create a transparent scrim through which the forms of other plants are glimpsed intriguingly.
To create your own “New Wave” garden, group 15 to 20 plants of the same kind together in meandering bands and narrow swaths you have previously outlined on the earth of the border. Use species of different heights, but don’t attempt to arrange them according to their height; instead, set groups next to each other in a way that makes the most of the differing texture of their foliage, their habits, and the color of their flowers.
After a few years, the most invasive species will end to overwhelm their neighbors. It will be necessary to use a spade to cut back the conquering tides and regain the clean-edged design that is a hallmark of the style of planting in waves.
Adapted from The Gardener’s Palette by Pierre Nessmann (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2008).