Despite having read, posted about and looked at a lot of photos of Patrick Blanc esque vertical gardens, have I actually seen one? Not in New york City, but last weekend in Singapore I spied my first one, pictured left, wrapped around the side of a shopping center on Orchard road. It was aesthetically beautiful and something registered at a cognitive level - a garden experience that somehow conveyed 'familiarity'- more about that below, and 'newness' maybe even a tad 'futuristic' but in sum total - it looked 'right' in a really cool way.
I've been noticing on my trips to to Singapore an interesting vernacular of garden design, botanic elements + ultra modern architecture, as a recurring motif in this city. It isn't necessarily just green city spaces, and those are well represented, but more about commercial buildings incorporating inventive garden elements as an intrinsic parts of the architecture. I'll do another post at some point when I have better photos to show - but here's one of a large building with substantial space allocation to balcony gardens- it was the scale that was surprising- those trees up there were pretty big.
For someone who leans more rustic and nostalgic it's odd to admit that I am attracted to and somewhat inspired by all this. This is mainly because there is something very apt about this aesthetic as a design response to the local environment and what is indigenous here. Vertical growth occurs naturally here. Many tree trunks are wrapped in a multitude of ferns and vines (orchids sometimes) even in urban settings. In the jungle, any vertical face would be covered with the same plus plenty of moss and lichen. In urban settings- an abandoned or dillapidated building can house an astounding assemblage of weeds growing out of the walls. I know this is a primary source of Patric Blanc's inspiration but it took being here to really make the connection.
I'm also just 'seeing' a lot of these kinds of gardens. The climate of year round heat and moisture allows for this kind of uninhibited verdant lushness- it doesn't take much doing or much time either to get a lot going on in a small garden space- or to cover a wall. The scale of things here- giant leaves, trunks and even roots (taller than me) and something about organic curvilinear things, scaled up and juxtaposed against geometric linear things, and you can see the potential of the botanic material part of this equation.
The other component is the non organic part- the buildings and architecture- in general most buildings are new and they keep building things and they all tend to be 'modern'. Here in Johor Bahru, public building is not any where near as described above about Singapore, but the private housing sector especially the wealthier enclaves have many buildings in this 'modern tropical' idiom with walled and balconied garden spaces. The picture on the right was one that really stood out where someone matched the gray trunks of a particular kind of palm tree with the wall echoing each others color and linear markings. I notice many other subtle and sophisticated uses of color, and shape to provide symmetry or contrast.
So, given the chance to work on a garden design here, would I want to go nostalgic and colonial or all modern and abstract? Hmm.