I have been intrigued about the development of Hauser & Wirth Somerset, since I first heard about it on the grapevine a couple of years ago. So it was with some excitement that I battled the traffic at Stone Henge yesterday morning, to make my first visit. After a delicious lunch of meaty modern country fare in the buzzing restaurant, we stepped out into the hazy sunshine across a lawned farmyard to a small conference room to listen to Piet Oudolf in conversation with Tania Compton. It was the first time I had heard Piet Oudolf speak and he was so self-effacing, amusing and charming. He cared little about the build details, such as, whether they had to import topsoil or not, that was left to ‘others'; it was all about the planting and creating many pathways through it to create a myriad of perspectives. After the discussion, Piet, who knew some of my party, gave us a private tour of the garden that is opening today.
So to the garden or rather Oudolf Field. Planted only a few months ago, it is not mature and you have to let your eyes go into soft focus to help get an impression of how it will look in a year or so’s time. But seeing the plants at this stage is fascinating. It gives you a much clearer idea of how Oudolf creates his planting; the way the soil gently undulates throughout the bed, the pattern of block planting zones vs the matrix zones.
You are able to walk up the long oblong field via various curved routes, which gently slope upward and away from the main cluster of buildings. It is a field of Oudolf planting. Your focus is on the planting and the way you can walk through in many ways, giving endless varying perspectives of stunning plant combinations. The wild meadow-like feel to the planting connects with the surrounding landscape; a sort of cultivated wild.
Yet there are some disconnects. The boundary to the field, I found, interferes with the perspectives of the planting as you walk through. Your focus is drawn to the metal farm gates, the telegraph poles in the adjacent field and the gallery farm buildings themselves cutting a freshly painted bright white fascia board line across the view. They all serve to interfere rather than act as borrowed landscape. It reminds you of how important it is, when designing a garden, to spend time on the boundary and the broader view and this relationship between the near and far. And then there is the clock. Ever so slightly reminiscent of an oversized satellite dish, draws your eye away from the planting and gives a feeling the field has just landed from Space. Oudolf liked the idea of this giant clock, when it was put to him, looming over his planting, yet does it have rhyme or reason?
The installations and artworks inside the galleries and elsewhere on site are exciting. I love this kind of work; the scale, the atmosphere and feelings they provoke. One other area I found particularly arresting was the cloister garden. Beautiful simple predominantly grass planting (Sesleria autumnalis) lorded over by an enormous metal spider. The proportion and scale in relation to the surrounding buildings was wonderful.
I am in no doubt that as the planting matures the disconnects will lessen. It is a field, within which there is a wonderful exhibition of Oudolf’s planting; he’s created a living 4D artwork that will be ever changing through the seasons.
It is really exciting that Hauser and Wirt and the curator have recognised horticulture and garden design as an art form from the very beginning of their journey to create a gallery in the heart of Somerset. I hope they will invite conceptual landscape architects and garden designers to create installations of their work, elsewhere on site, in the future.