Horticultural hero awarded honorary degree

The internationally acclaimed landscape designer, nurseryman and author Piet Oudolf, who is best known for his work designing the influential High Line in New York, has been awarded an honorary degree by the University of Sheffield.

Piet Oudolf landscape design
Oudolf rejected tired, conventional landscape planting in favour of a looser, naturalistic look

Piet, who is a Visiting Professor in the Department of Landscape, accepted the honorary Doctor of Letters at a graduation ceremony this morning (Wednesday 18th July), alongside around 70 students graduating from the Department’s BA, BSc and MLA courses.

It’s a big statement to make, but he has changed the nature of the profession and field within which he works.

Professor Nigel Dunnett

Department of Landscape Architecture

Accepting the accolade, Piet said: “Getting an honorary doctorate is an achievement I never would have dreamt of in the start of my career. It means a lot for me because I see the Department of Landscape at the University of Sheffield as the best in the world for their teaching on plants and plant communities.

"The passion for the subject shown by Professors Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough is unrivaled and this reflects on the students. There is an enormous need in today’s world for people who really understand about plants and their potential.”

Speaking at the ceremony, Professor Dunnett, who was integral to the award’s conferral, said: “Piet Oudolf has achieved the remarkable feat of being respected by professionals across the range of arts and built environment disciplines, whilst building a visible public profile across the world.

"It’s a big statement to make, but he has changed the nature of the profession and field within which he works.”

As a designer, Oudolf’s work is typified by bold sweeps of perennials and grasses that often look as good in the depths of winter as in high summer.

His trademark, naturalistic style is used to breathtaking effect in private gardens and public landscapes around the world and can be enjoyed in the UK in locations including Scampston HallPensthorpe Nature ReserveRHS Wisley and Trentham Gardens.

Neither the impact of his work or the extent of his influence can be overstated.

The success of the High Line transformation – from abandoned rail line to one of New York’s top tourist attractions – has been credited with stimulating major economic regeneration in its surroundings and is regularly cited as a precedent for landscape architecture projects globally.

His approach, which has been communicated in a wide range of books, is now the dominant method by which contemporary designers work with planting.

It means a lot for me because I see the Department of Landscape at the University of Sheffield as the best in the world for their teaching on plants and plant communities.

Piet Oudolf

Visiting Professor in the Department of Landscape

Piet started his career as a garden designer in the Netherlands, but came to feel that the horticultural industry wasn’t supplying the type of robust and dramatic plants that he wanted to include in his design schemes.

In the 1980s, he and his wife Anja set up a new plant nursery and demonstration garden in the village of Hummelo, with the intention of growing the sorts of plants that he could use in practice and as a means of experimenting with planting design.

He became a key figure in a network of artists, designers and growers, known as ‘the new perennial movement,’ who rejected tired, conventional landscape planting and promoted a much looser, naturalistic look, based on herbaceous perennials and grasses.

Spearheaded by Piet, this movement has transformed planting design and garden and landscape-making over the past 30 years.

The Department of Landscape’s own ‘Sheffield School’ approach – exemplified by the work of Professors Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough, including the iconic plantings at the 2012 London Olympic Park – has its roots in the New Perennial movement.

Recognition of Piet and his work extends far beyond the professional confines of landscape architecture or garden design.

International acclaim includes the Prince Bernhard Cultural Foundation Award, an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a Chelsea Gold Medal and the Veitch Memorial Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society.

Piet continues to work on largely public projects, ensuring his designs – and the pleasure they provide – are enjoyed by the largest possible audience.

He recently created a walk-through meadow, which welcomed around 140,000 visitors to the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, where he was awarded the Society’s inaugural Horticultural Hero award.

Professor Dunnett added: “It is the combination of Piet’s worldwide profile, his work on some of the most famous and iconic landscapes, his lasting legacy in changing the nature of landscape design, his willingness and generosity in sharing ideas, and the combination of respect from fellow professionals and wider public appeal that makes him the ideal candidate for an honorary doctorate in the year of the Department of Landscape’s 50th Anniversary.”

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