Painterly Whites

The ribs on the Caladium Lindenii pictured left, look like they're painted on. In the background of the picture on the right, what looks like green paint spattered on white paper is Diffenbachia Star Bright I think, hard to tell with so many variations that look quite similar. The papery leaves in the foreground with the broad watercolor stripes belong to variegated Arrowroot, Maranta Arundinacea, possibly my favorite of this trio.

I inherited these guys from my parents garden, which along with a collection of fragrant white flowered plants, I started organizing into a 'white corner'. To be honest the situation was not ideal- too hot and sunny for these shade lovers, the plan was to get some larger plants and some climbers to protect them. It took a while for that to happen so in the meantime it was virtually plant abuse as I would forget and find them bone dry, scorched which would lead to yellowing and brown edges. Not Pretty.

Things are better now, there's a fair amount of dappled shade. A few repottings have also happened which with regular mulching with compost keeps them in good shape. In return the corner is looking good, these variegated whites provide an illusion of being icy cool- its a joy to catch a glimpse of them on a hot sunny day. At night there's an added etherealness to their appearance which in combination with the evening perfume of the many scented white flowers gives this spot a unique personality of its own.

Now that I have this section and my eye catches white flowered or white variegated plants when I'm plant shopping or just browsing online, its quite extraordinary how many plant there are that fit into this category. Just as I was surprised to discover a while ago the prevalence of white in the fall garden at NYBG and Cape Cod, I'm now finding the same in tropical plants. What a huge range of perfumed white flowered and white variegated leaves there are - many of them native to this part of the world.

The problem still remains that this spot is pretty exposed and can get very hot and dry except in its deepest corner which is where these painterly whites are currently thriving. Next week I'm going to do some moving around, repotting and fence repair so who knows I might end up with a little expansion of this space.

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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