Hortus Conclusus: Peter Zumthor and Piet Oudolf at the Serpentine Gallery

I was thrilled my visit to London coincided with the last few weeks of Piet Oudolf's temporary installation in Kensington Gardens:
Every summer, the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens unveils a new pavilion built by a renowned architect, designed to stand for just three months. This avant-garde happening is a high point in London’s calendar...

Swiss architect Peter Zumthor is the Serpentine’s choice for 2011. He has a huge reputation internationally but is unbuilt in [the UK]... [U]nusually for this attention-grabbing installation, Zumthor has chosen to place a garden at the heart of his pavilion – it is, in fact, an enclosed garden or hortus conclusus...


The pavilion is a monastic place: sheer matt black walls form a high rectangular building . Each long side is pierced with three narrow entrances that give on to a corridor running around the building, making it a kind of double-walled construction, with four narrow doorways into the central space. In this cloister-like courtyard, deep eaves shelter the walkway, leaving a long rectangle open to the sky.

The sense of focus and seclusion is striking – traffic noise dims, the park landscape suddenly narrows to the border, roughly 90ft x 12ft, striped with sunshine or deep shade as the light moves across it...
(Note: I embedded the links in this excerpt from The Telegraph written by Joanna Fortnam. Read the whole thing here.)

Striking indeed. I was almost moved to tears. If I had been alone, I might have gone for it. Alas, one does not want to embarrass oneself in public with excessive shows of emotion.

The garden, with the plants now at their peak, some just past it, set in front of a black background reminded me of old Dutch flower paintings. How fitting that Oudolf is Dutch. Most if not all the key plants--Eupatorium maculatum, Monarda 'Jacob Cline', Sanguisorba canadensis, Aster microphyllus, et cetera--come from American meadows. So we have the American prairie in the hands of a Dutch master in London. The plant list is here. In addition to the black background, I believe the special effect is lighting from above, only.

I spent almost two hours in the Hortus Conclusus, moving from place to place, sitting quietly for several minutes at a time, taking picture after picture as the light changed and people passed through the pavilion. I decided to use larger picture file sizes for this blog post than I normally think are necessary. I hope it was worth any extra time it may have taken for you to load my blog. Now I will let you enjoy the rest of this experience as I did--in silence.






























AnniesAnnuals said...


Kimi said...

Wow. The flowers are beautiful and set off so uniquely with the black background.

ryan said...

It's beautiful. I've never seen Zumthor or Oudolf's work in person, but the photos always blow me away.

Fairegarden said...

I am eaten alive with envy, Chuck. But will bookmark this post to return to gaze again and again at your photos. Piet is my idol and I dream of England still, having been there for the blogger's meet in Malvern last year. The black background is superb. Tears, yes.


Christopher C. NC said...

Well, well, well. Where do I start? Monarda and Eupatorium do not bloom at the same time for me and asters are in short supply when both of those are blooming. I see floppage and am surprised they let that be, in England of all places. Overall it is a good two feet shorter than the tallflower meadow.

And the main thing, the big difference between this most lovely staged meadow and the real thing is Piet had total control. He had a tiny, 90 x 12 blank slate and filled it. Total control. Nature is invited in after the fact. I should be so lucky.

The pavilion is interesting. Is the outside of the building just like the courtyard? Interesting, but sadly it reminds me of barracks in a camp where bad things happen.

Fairegarden said...

Chuck, I just saw an article on this garden in the latest issue of Gardens Illustrated. The photos are nowhere near as wonderful as yours, not even close. I didn't even remember seeing the piece until rereading the mag. Chris, the outside is a black oblong.

Helen said...

How lucky you were to see this! The photos are wonderful, and I'm sure the experience would have been tear-inducing. That black box is a dramatic and monumental frame; reminds me in a way of the Vietnam Memorial in DC.