In Memory of Wolfgang Oehme

On December 15th, 2011 the Landscape Architecture community lost one of its finest. Wolfgang Oehme, co-founder of Oehme van Sweden and Associates, passed away in his home in Towson, MD at the age of 81. Oehme has often been credited as the pioneer of the New American Garden Style and has greatly influenced the field of landscape architecture and garden design with his poetic planting designs rich with ornamental grasses. Below is a tribute written by one of those designers who was privileged to begin his career under Wolfgang’s mentorship. Bob Hruby, formerly of Oehme van Sweden, now partner at Campion Landscape Architecture shares a glimpse into his experience working with Wolfgang Oehme:

A Tribute to a Garden Maverick

One of my mentors, Wolfgang Oehme, died on December 15, 2011.  The beautiful gardens of Wolfgang Oehme, and Oehme van Sweden and Associates defined the New American Garden Style and are the result of a unique, creative process that no formula can reproduce.  The lush, robust layers of plants are what set these gardens apart; make them recognizable, timeless and responsive to the place.  Wolfgang was a maverick in his approach to landscape architecture and those of us who had the privilege to work with him would never forget the lessons learned.

Without an open mind, you would be left in his dust.  The process of garden design started on a drafting table, but evolved through a fluid process that took you to local nurseries, botanic gardens, woodlands and finally the project site.  The plans were a loose roadmap that marked the beginning of the journey, and were relied on less and less as the garden unfolded.  The plant list evolved based on what we observed, what the site demanded and an assortment of “additional” plants that always magically emerged from the trunk of Wolfgang’s car.  On planting day, the plans were left in the car and we faced a sprawling assortment of plants in containers, waiting for direction.  Wolfgang would layout the plants intuitively, like a painter arranging colors and patterns on a canvas. He responded to the realities of the site and acted on creative whims. Preconceived ideas were left on the drafting table.

I never knew what we would end up with, but it was always better than what I imagined.  The tapestry of plants that emerged changed the way I thought about planting design, looked at nature and art.  Patterns of plant textures and colors that grew from an abandoned field became as informative as paintings hanging in a gallery.  His gardens continue to be ephemeral works of art and sources of inspiration.   All those who he touched and included in the process of garden making will miss him.

-Bob Hruby, ASLA

To see the original blog post check out The Understory. Also, please make sure to stop by Wolfgang Oehme’s website and Oehme van Sweden and Associates’ website to see the tributes they have posted in his honor. Finally, see the full length obituaries in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post.

– Land8 Team

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