Cracking Tropical Garden Design

The recent Singapore Garden Festival was really terrific. Every year its goals of engaging community and showcasing creativity around the subject of plants and gardening are resoundingly achieved in an ever increasing space- it was double the size of an earlier manifestation. This year might have been a vintage one with many ideas to take home and mull over, and some local pride in having the best in show category taken by fellow Malaysian Inch Lim. 

But this post is about the most inspirational one for me - the landscape garden titled Silence that took the silver medal and designed by last year's best in show winners Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam.

It was an ambitious design, a concrete spiral that you climbed up into a walled circular space with a serene urban vibe, sophisticated in its use of colour: concrete, black marble, black and green foliage with some shots of orange .

I also like that it was clearly tropical but had a modern spare feel - not the dense lushness you usually associate with tropical gardens. There was also a sense of urban space but casual and relaxed.

The high concrete walls also echoed the realities of living in a tropical city - concrete is a familiar sight and an increasing need to secure privacy in an increasingly crowded space. The design solution offered a a tasteful modern approach with its palette and materials but the real genius was its inclusion of some cracks in the concrete that were then artfully planted.

I thought this genius because it introduced an idea of wildness in a light and subtle way. Here in the tropics, urban wildness is usually overwhelming as things get overgrown in an instant. The nature you see in the cracks of building and pavements explodes rapidly into sinewy ariel roots and weeds a few foot tall.

Here instead low ground hugging plants like Elephantopus Scaber, a woodlant plant I'm more likely to find on a forest floor on a hike create interesting textures with creeping sedums and tufted grasses. Often on my walks I notice patches of  these many low growing plants that I will now make a more concerted study of because this has now inspired me to do something about the real cracks that I have in the concrete patio of the Gravel Garden.

Thats what these shows are about beautiful intriguing designs that also suggest ways to deal with a problem. I've been staring at these cracks for the best of the last five years wondering if I want to go to the expense of repairing them or does the regular weeding/cutting maintenance suffice. I've also been strategically moving pots over the worst parts. Now something different is about to happen here- I will keep you posted.

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