Wolfgang Oehme, one of the most important figures in recent North American landscape, has just died. He was one of those people who achieve great things despite being, well shall we say, very eccentric. Autistic basically. Let's face it, they are not always great company but so often it is the extraordinarily focused and utterly obsessive and anti-social geniuses who have moved human history on, despite being exasperating and maddening to deal with as people. The worst lecture I have ever been to was given by Wolfgang - it was so bad it was almost performance art.
Wolfgang got his deep understanding of plants in his native (east) Germany where he trained in the tradition of pioneer plantsman Karl Foerster before emigrating to the US in the late fifties. There after a number of years working as a landscape and garden designer he met James van Sweden. The rest is history. It was an extraordinary partnership - between the extrovert James, trained as an architect and not only a superb designer but also a very good businessman and Wolfgang who knew about plants, and not a lot else. Plants which were reliable and deerproof and everythingelse the Washington DC suburbs could throw at them proof, was just what US landscaping needed back in the 1970s. Without Wolfgang there would have few alternatives to grass, more grass, more grass, and the limited number of boring shrubs which the US landscape industry was using at the time. The fact that the US landscape design profession has broken through to its very dynamic and much more plant-orientated present was given an enormous boost through Wolfgang's knowledge.
The Elysian fields will no doubt be planted up with lots of Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' and Calamagrostis x acutiflora. One of my favourite stories about him was him going round to a client's garden and noticing that some impatiens had been planted in the middle of one of 'his' borders. Pulling them out with his bare hands the told the client "this is not your garden , this is my garden". I think most of us in the design profession have felt like doing that occasionally.
Here's a proper obituary