The Architectural Genius of Peter Wirtz
Peter Wirtz rose to fame in the respective worlds of Gardening and Design by crafting geometric shrubbery, smartly proportioned lawns, calming reflective pools, and tidy gravel paths into careful alignments that function well in any season. His affinity for mass plantings is evidenced as he walks the crowd at the Colony Club through his current and past landscape designs, juxtaposing sketches with before and after photos of his gardens in order to demonstrate the prowess and architectural vision that goes into his approach.
In presentation, Wirtz speaks about plants as if they are the tools of a true artiste—he talks about the importance of using curvilinear plantings inside of a square space to elicit a feeling of free-flowing continuity; this is portrayed beautifully in the geometric Ficus trees he plants on a property in Florida, or in the Lavender he plants in the brick surrounding a pool in the Mediterranean. Elsewhere in his presentation, he demonstrates the ways in which nature can be harnessed to “fill out” a garden design: plants that eventually grow lush in the summer heat can be used soften the “harshness” of a flat, straight wall.
Wirtz’ gardens, moreover, palpate with the designer’s first-hand knowledge of plants: when he shows us pictures of a landscaped property he designed in Illinois, he seems to take particular pride in his savvy use of limited resources. “The only plants we incorporated were Hornbeam, clipped Cornelian Dogwood, and Yew hedges,” he smiles, looking up at the photo. “That’s it.”
He moves through a repertory that includes everything from a floating highway median Brussels to a system of radial hedges designed amongst l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris, in which Wirtz used English Yew to create a “dramatic space” that resembles beams radiating off the sun (or a scene from Alice In Wonderland, your correspondent would like to report). As Wirtz warns the audience about the “dangers of too much kitsch and cheap gimmick,” his geometric designs tell a story of idealism and romance: even his most structured, man-made designs evoke a naturalism that can only come from the hands of a gardener who has learned to work with nature, rather than against it. His “floating carpet” of Crabapple blossoms on a private residence in Massachusetts elicits gasps of approval from the crowd, as does an open air “cinema” crafted out of topiary in a private garden in Seattle (a city he describes as having “a dream climate” because of its favorable humidity).
Another project on Lake Washington positions a garden pool at the end of a path perpendicular to the water on a lakefront property, which was designed to draw the eye out towards the tide. These are the kind of geometric considerations that betray Wirtz as a real innovator: when he speaks about the “drama and deep allusion of perception” in garden design, its only because he’s considered his plantings not only from an artistic, horticultural, and architecture perspective, but also from a psychological one. “How does the garden make us feel, intrinsically?” his work seems to ask, “And how can we cultivate the sensation?”
The scale at which Wirtz is capable of modeling his ideas also plays out in his international designs, a catalog that is as rich as it is diverse. At the Colony Club, he shows the audience photos of a Belgian property designed with a mote to “evoke a medieval notion…of [traversing a garden] and having to cross a waterway in order to enter the home”. A huge property in Eastern Europe also evokes a palatial fantasy: Wirtz casually mentions the 1500 trees and 40,000 plants he introduced to the property, and dotes over the elevated, structural Rose beds that give the waterfront landscape “texture”. His designs for Wood Wharf in London are equally impressive, featuring a floating rooftop garden on a restaurant property that dovetails with a clipped waterfront beach that functions as a public gathering space. The application of his designs is manifold, and when he speaks of a forthcoming project to renovate Warsaw Spire in Poland, the excitement in his voice rings out above the crowd. The audience, in that moment, was looking at an unflattering image of rubble in a construction zone, but where the onlookers saw a dirty excavation, Wirtz saw nothing but opportunity. “Every time I go back I see something different,” he said– the true perspective of a visionary.
Find a listing of forthcoming Madoo lectures here.