The Occasional Gardener: Ideas + Aesthetics + Inspiration from the Garden

Craftsman's Garden


This was my second visit to the garden at the National Craft Center in Kuala Lumpur. I had returned primarily to take another look at the garden having been really impressed with its design on my first visit. The visit reiterated my original impressions of the garden being not only well designed but uniquely suited to the purpose of the center to celebrate Malaysian handicrafts.

The garden is not large, inhabiting space between buildings at the complex with a few small artisan cottage studios at its center where artisans work and sell their wares. That in itself is instructional in garden design - what it manages to pack in this small space is extraordinary - a small stream, a pool, lush plantings and an interesting variety of hardscapes that lead the visitor through the artisanal commune, see the album of photos.

Not only are the hardscapes interesting and visually compelling, the collection of assorted earthen containers, large driftwoods and boulders are completely in keeping with the spirit of the center as a craftman's haven. Its hard to tell sometimes if they belong to the garden or are waiting to be worked on by an artisanal hand or just completed by one. The terracota pots have grooves and grids that collect moss and the logs and driftwoods add extraordinary visual texture. There's always a knowing mix of geometric forms and patterns juxtaposed with organic ones like gnarly roots and paving stones, or a pile of boulders and a twisted trunk set against the decorative grid of air bricks.

The color palette is masterful. There are painted surfaces in a warm ochre that resonate with the terracotta and ceramic pots as well as picking up shades in the boulders and pebbles. The grayer shades of the stones are in tune with the gray of bark and driftwoods pickled and bleached by the equatorial sun.

Its surprising how well these colors look combined with a lush green tropical planting. The colors are are also cleverly knitted together in the design, bright green moss in the grooves of the terracota and the hollows of driftwood or wrapped around pebbles. The ochres are picked up in the color of coconuts or foliage as they yellow and clumps of yellow stemmed bamboo. The green color is also purposefully limited to foliage - largely ferns, palms and bamboos, with little to no flowers to be seen.

It happened to thunderstorm quite heavily during my visit which revealed yet more layers to the design. Water thundered down gutters and splashed in the pools and small stream and bounced of large leaved plants providing an audio sensory experience unique to this part of the world - when it rains here - it really rains.  There was movement - large bamboos and skinny palm swayed and the rain rendered erratic staccato movements to the leaves. There was also the added glossy textures and darker colors that the rain also brings.

A measure of a beautifully designed garden is to want to visit it again, and I certainly do and the other is whether it inspires to find ways of incorporating its ideas into your own garden and I certainly will.

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