Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Postcard from Japan: The best of the rest

Well - not everyone could win a gold medal, I suppose.

The standard this year at the Gardening World Cup was very high, as you'd expect from international designers of this calibre: so the competitive element was particularly controversial, and there was much heated muttering in corners about the judges' reasons for awarding anything less than gold.

But the decision, as they say, is final, so in recognition of the fact that there were some damn good gardens among the lesser medals, I couldn't leave without showing you them, too.

David Davidson + Leon Kluge: Hortus Consensus (S Africa)
An uncompromisingly African garden with its ochre colouring, you'd hardly believe these plants were sourced in Japan. The garden is divided by a sweeping wall, planted on top with spiky, forbidding Aloe vera (the closest Japanese plant David could find to South African Cape aloe, A. ferox) symbolising the transition from the apartheid era to the age of peace and reconciliation

Behind the wall, all is wild, with a meadow of Panicum virgatum punctuated with lipstick pink Lycoris radiata (I think: the Japanese tend not to use Latin names, so this is a 'best guess' from me). These grow wild along the sides of the paddyfields here - the Japanese equivalent of dandelions - and their exotic looks earned them a place in several of the show gardens  

Set into the walls were these charming 'wildlife boxes': I've seen them filled with grass and bamboo before, but never teapots. One of David's Japanese contractors apparently went and raided his mum's kitchen cupboards for this lot

In front of the wall, all was ordered, with beautiful wavy lines of planting giving the garden a lovely movement. David and Leon design the Kirstenbosch exhibit at Chelsea each year, and have won umpteen gold medals. It's their 20th year next year, and David may make it his last: his subtle, plantsman's designs will be sorely missed.

Gabino Carballo: Dragomed Garden (Spain)
If there was ever a garden that gave away its designer's nationality, this is it. This was a garden which needed bright sunshine to make it sing. Luckily, the light in Nagasaki is particularly pure and set the scarlet of the painted bamboo off against the deep purple central courtyard beautifully.

This was a playful garden, though the message behind it was serious: the red bamboo is the skeleton of a dragon 'bleeding on a reflecting pool': a reference, too, to the 'rauxa', a Catalan term for uncontrolled passion and rage. The contrast with the blue peace of the central patio is absolute.

Planting was sparing and set off well against the pale gravel background: as well as these aeoniums there were aloes, shimmering silver Leucadendron argenteum and olives

Jihae Hwang: Mother's Sewing Basket (Korea)

Probably the most controversial decision of the lot, Jihae's garden was the pick of many of the other designers for top honours but ended up getting bronze. It was an exquisitely detailed depiction of the positive side of life in poverty: the tranquillity and peace in having little, and therefore valuing family and community more

Colour was used sparingly, but exceptionally beautifully in tiles (here at the base of a giant silver needle sculpture which dominated the garden) and in little touches like tiny ceramic flowers set into the steps

A rusted metal wall is set with Korean domestic implements: a cooking pan and a gardening tool. In the white rendered wall opposite, Jihae set a little cluster of rusted bolts and springs: the symbols of humility pervaded this garden 

Inside there was a simple wooden bench with tiny pairs of shoes underneath in a neat row, pots and a basket of fabric resting on top. The tale is of domesticity and simple pursuits, and the importance of family

Karen Stefonick: Passage Under the Sun (USA)

This was gardening as modern art. The abstract dominates: a burning sun over two concrete slabs (four lorries' worth, apparently) trickling with life-giving water that flows down into a pool surrounding the seating areas and cutting them off

The stepping stones between the two areas 'connect past and present, continents and countries': though separated by water, this is a garden of unity, simplicity and clean, uncluttered space

The planting is sparing, too: I couldn't help but notice in these gardens that wherever the designer came from, there was a noticeable Japanese influence on the designs. Plants were used in single, emphatically isolated specimens or groups, often juxtaposed against a rock - a very Japanese technique. Perhaps that's to do with having Japanese contractors build the gardens; perhaps it's just that you can't help breathing in a little of the culture while you're here.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Postcard from Japan: The home team

No doubt the home supporters among you have been wondering how the Brits got on.

There were two gardens from British designers at the Gardening World Cup, by Jo Thompson and Richard Miers, both quite different interpretations of the peace theme.

Actually it's slightly cheating including Jo in the British contingent as she was representing Italy (James Basson, too, is a candidate for the Brit team, being an Englishman who lives in France). She comes from Italian stock, so she's allowed to defect temporarily, but she's on our side really.

Anyway, Jo won a silver medal (equalling her medal from last year's show) for her stone-arched garden, taking its inspiration directly from what happened at Nagasaki almost 70 years ago.

Richard, making his first show garden here (now that's a baptism of fire if ever there was one) was awarded bronze for his very English garden that simply embodied the everyday peace we all feel when we kick back and relax of an evening in a beautiful garden.

I thought I'd shut up for once and let them talk about it in their own words.
Jo Thompson: The Butterfly Effect

"The garden is a direct response to a visit last year that we made to the Nagasaki Peace Museum... It really sunk home quite how important this message [of peace] is.

"What stayed with me were the images of these atomic shadows, which are the remnants of people who were essentially vapourised by the bomb. The people have disappeared but their shadows still remain on the concrete walls: you've got somebody sitting waiting for a bus, a ladder with a man up it going about his daily business - and all of that is just spine-tinglingly awful and it does make your blood run cold.

"Then next to these shadows were some wooden window shutters which had survived, and onto them there had been imprinted the shadow of the acer leaves on the tree that had stood in front of them, and it was beautiful, the most intricate pattern.

"And I found myself standing in front of it thinking, well this is beautiful but in fact it's come from something so ugly. And I wanted to use that.

"So that was the first idea - and then as we walked out of the museum we were met by a host of butterflies. It was extraordinary - we came out from this place of gloom and were just met by them flying around, their fragility contrasting with the sadness of the place we'd just been.

"So I've designed a space that has rendered walls for shadows, it's a very plain, simple floor surface for shadows; it has arches in it to frame shadows, and plants that attract butterflies."

Richard Miers: Serenity

"It's a garden to entertain in: to get people to sit down and have a meal and discuss and talk, aiming for peace and tranquillity.

"The theme of the whole show was gardens for peace  - my interpretation was peace within oneself, which you get being out of doors in a nice garden with wildlife all around you, the sound of the running rill - it all just helps you bring peace to yourself.

"The Japanese love asymmetry, and Europeans tend to like symmetry, and I wanted to show them what an English town garden could look like.

"I wanted to bring elements of water, I wanted to bring in the sun, represented in Emily Young's sculpture, and show them how an English herbaceous border would be put together but using Japanese flowers.

"It's getting the rhythm around the garden, having the space to breathe between the flowers which I thought was important."

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