Garden Design Magazine, October 1997

Jeff Book, a Los Angeles writer, covers design and other topics.
First it was the fabled island of Bali, and later the British Isles, that gave Made Wijaya his design style for tropical landscapes

Text by By Jeff Book | Photographs by Tim Street-Porter

An iconoclastic garden designer and witty essayist with a fondness for straw hats pale suits, Made Wijaya has been called Truman Capote with a machete. For 23 years, the Australian born redhead has made the island of Bali his home, changing his name – Michael White – to a Balinese one. Working from his home-and-office compound, Villa Bebek, he has blended Eastern and Western traditions in more than 300 gardens for site ranging from the famed Amandari resort on Bali to David Bowie's home in Mistique, in the Caribbean.
In Bali's rich volcanic soil and warm, moist climate, plants grow very quickly, and machetes actually are needed to keep them in trim. "I refer to my gardens as 'ordered jungle,'" he says. "in the tropics, landscapes run wild if they're not maintained. Our design staff is small – about thirty-five – but our corps of master gardeners, always ready to hack and cull, runs to about a hundred."

Wijaya's gardens honor the principles of Balinese architecture, which he describes as supplying "outlets, avenues, and backdrops for all the other arts." He designed Villa Bebek as Balinese-style walled compound of thatched pavilions with shaded verandas that open onto planted courtyards. The buildings embrace a series of open air rooms punctuated by stone statuary and garden lights. Indoors and outdoors are separated by nothing more than blinds or louvered shuttered. Hibiscus and gardenia mingle with pampas grass and Cordyline australia, which cast spiky shadows on the coral and stone walls. Water gardens harbor lotuses, bullrushes, papyrus, and caladiums. Lofty palms and bamboo rustle in the gentle sea breeze, screening Wijaya's quiet sanctuary.

Except for Wijaya's projects, however, the practice of ornamental horticulture on Bali is limited. Instead, gardening has spiritual and practical associations for the local people: most temples have a sacred banyan tree and a fragrant frangipani, whose blossoms are used in offerings; home food for gardens are common; medicinal plant use is widespread; and spirits are said to dwell in certain trees. And, of course, the island itself – from rice paddies that airstep uphill, reflecting shards of sky, to the roadside riot of flowering trees and shrubs – is so beautiful that the Balinese can be forgiven for not adorning it.
In 1973, intending to take a short break from his architectural studies in Sydney, Wijaya sailed for the fabled isle – a favorite vacation destination for many Australians. "I jumped ship and fell in love," he says. He was smitten with a land where centuries of bountiful rice harvests have made it possible for art to flourish; typical is the local farmer who has plenty of time to play in a village gamelan or to take part in traditional dance dramas.
Like many foreign visitors before him, Wijaya decided to settle down in paradise. He lived with a Balinese family, klearn the language, and threw himself into the island's whirl of religious festivals. When he wasn't making a living by teaching either tennis or English, he was attending temple ceremonies, exploring local architecture, even serving as a pallbearer in spectacular funeral processions – all of which he chronicled in 'Stranger in Paradise: The Diary of an Expatriate," his column for the Bali Post, a local English-language weekly.

Adapting Balinese traditions to the needs of Westerners, Wijaya began designing small gardens and, occasionally, houses for fellow foreigners. Then, in 1979, he visited yet another island nation – Great Britain – and was beguiled all over again, this time by the naturalism of English country gardens and by the encyclopaedic Royal Botanical at Kew. Upon his return to Bali from Britain, he received his first large-scale commission, to revamp the grounds of the Bali Oberoi, a villa hotel in which gardens play a prominent role. His early "tropical Cotswold" design style was born. "It was my homage, using tropical plants, to the English style," he says. "Lots of colour and texture: a romantic look with echoes of Constable. In an Asian courtyard, though, it doesn't look so English."
"Although most designers don't like to admit it, hardscaping is the trickiest part of a garden," Wijaya says. "That's where you must balance nature, architecture, sculpture, and practical needs." Imparting a gentle order to his exuberant plantings, Wijaya's hardscaping choreographs enjoyment – with, for example, pathways that reward strollers with cooling fountains, views of Bali's terraced rice fields, an occasional pieces of statuary that serve as focal points for outdoor room.
In the gardens he designed for the Bali Hyatt, Wijaya leads visitors on a large-scale journey through more than 30 acres along with the white sands of Sanur Beach. Walkways meander past shrubs with brilliantly patterned leaves; swamp ferns, umbrella plants, and other water-loving plants edge ponds dense with day- and night-blooming water lilies. Lawns are dotted with coconut palms, breadfruit trees, and flowering trees such as flamboyant Delonix regia and Erythrina. He has also paid tribute to Vita Sackville-West's White Garden at Sissinghurst, in England, with a display of plants with pale flower or variegated leaves.

Villa Bebek entertaining area

Taman Bebek Pavilion

His gardens for the Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran Bay represent Wijaya at the top of his game. More than 200 plant species surround the hotel's Balinese-style villas. Located on the semiarid Bukit Peninsula in the south, the site was mostly teak forest until the Japanese cut it down during the World War II. One of the designer's main achievements was bringing biological diversity to the site: "We reintroduced native flora from other parts of Bali and added appropriate exotics, such as bougainvillea, yuccas, and African tulip trees."
This is a culturally rich alternative to the landscaping of many tropical resort gardens, with their isolated beds and mounded, manicured lawns. "I'm fighting a bottle against mindless theme-park bermscaping, which seems to be designed so it can be tended by machine," Wijaya rails. It's so bloody safe and simplistic, when local culture and design are so ripe for reinterpretation."
He'll have plenty of opportunities to express his ideals: the draftsmen's tables at Villa Bebek are littered with letters and faxes about new projects, including landscaping for a Club Med in southern China and the grounds of two houses on the Nile, in Cairo.
A central concept in Balinese culture is that of the creation of beauty as a gift for the gods. Happily, Wijaya's landscapes – on Bali and, increasingly, around the world – are available for mere mortals to delight in as well.

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PT. Wijaya Tribwana International
Jln. Pengembak No.9B Mertasari, Sanur 80228, Bali - Indonesia. Ph: (62-361) 287668, Fax: (62-361) 286731

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