Star Special Home Magazine, September 2007


Tropical Garden Masters

Title: Modern Tropical Garden Design | Author: Made Wijaya | Publihsher: Editions Didier Millet and Wijaya Word s, 2007 |
Price: RM135 (Hard Cover, 208pgs)

Review by Johnni Wong


Courtyard garden in a Sydney home. The designer, Jamie Durie, has cleverly combined granite and teak with ‘clouds’ and ‘puddles’ of softcape

It has been eight years since Balibased landscape designer Made Wijaya came out with influenctial Tropical Garden Design book and five years since his Architecture of Bali publication. With his latest, Modern Tropical Garden Design, the writer has sealed his reputation as one of the most dynamic and important writer-designers of out time.

Garden enthusiasts, property developers, landscape designers, architects and horticultural experts will no doubt find something to delight them in Wijaya’s latest book.
Written with wit and candid views on all who matter in the world of tropical garden design, the author is spot-on when is comes to global trends and what works and what appears merely faddish.

The book is divided into five main chapters:
Tropical Americas
Tropical Asia
Tropical Australia
Designing Modern Gardens
Avant Gardeners

In the preface by the author’s friend and celebrated author-photography Tim Street Porter, it is stated that this book “is the first of its kind to explore the impact of modernism on landscaping across the span of the tropics”

Quite a statement but it is apparent even half way through the book that the contents and the approach do live up to the hype. Wijaya’s depth and breadth of knowledge of garden designs – not only modern and his travels and first-hand experiences of the gardens, the architecture and the personalities that he write about, is no ordinary feat. It is amazing how the author has managed to joggle all those ideas, concepts and cross-referenced them against what’s contemporary and what has come to pass.

In his house in Mexico, architect Duccio Ermenegildo separated the outdoor living and dining areas from the rest of the garden with a series of arches. He designed the dining table and chairs to blend with the architecture.

From the beginnings of the Modernist Movement in the 20 th Century, the reader is introduced to pioneer tropical garden designers like Brazilian Roberto Burle Maarx and Richard C. Tongg of Honolulu. The author then leads you down the path of tropical garden history and design, and acquaints you with “the gardens of the early Hawaiian, Brazilian and Miami styles, through to the present-day New Asia and Zen-Modern styles.” In the process, Wijaya tells you exactly what he thinks of the “architectonic gardens in Southeast Asian cities” inspired by “Zen Warriors extraordinaire”. No doubt a significant contrast to Wijaya’s own Balinese garden “commandoes” of the1990s.
The pages also document the work of other early masters like Luis Barragan, Isamu Noguchi and Geoffrey Bawa. And “contemporary tropical modernist” featured in the book include:

  • Raymond Jungles of Florida
  • Bill Bensly of Bangkok
  • Martin Palleros of Perth
  • Karl Princic of Bali
  • Ng Sek San of Malaysia

Besides the “modern masters” and “visionary” designers just mentioned, the author also profiles extraordinary talents that he is familiar with, namely: Bruce Goold ( Sydney), Jamie Durie (Ausralia), Chang Huai-Yan ( Singapore), Martin Palleros ( Perth) and Nancy Goslee Power ( Santa Monica). But the author may be a bit indulgent and premature in citing Chang as one of the “visionaries”. Also, another name listed in the book tends to repeat himself with the same formulaic wall or garden design.
Anyway, developers looking for “new blood” in landscape design would do well to check out the names highlighted or mentioned in the book.

Chang Huai-Yan adds a modernaist touch to this betel nut palm forest with a bird sculpture

Although it is a tad annoying at first to keep reading the same names being mentioned over and over again in the book., it does become apparent after a while that the distinactive style of each designer is being drummed into our head. And where words fail to conjure up the appropriate images – which is rare – the photographs of the astonishing landscape once again remind us why those designers are chosen for the book, some of the 200-odd pictures could have been better.

Tropical Asian courtyard with modern looks designed by P.T. Wijaya for a California home. The chairs were designed by Ed Tuttle, and the doors by sculptor Pintor Sirait

Another aspect of the book is that the author attempts to set the record straight for some of the design concepts that now appear to be identified with certain properties or personalities. He points out that, “The infinity edge pool, where the water tumbles over the pool edge, first used by landscape designers in Acapulco in the 1950s, but made world famous by architect Peter Muller in his pool design for the Amandari hote Bali in 1989, has become a tropical garden staple,”

And he adds that, “The idea of the swimming pool connecting seamlessly to water garden – done at the Villa Bebek in Bali in 1986 and at the Sala Samui Resort & Spa in Koh Samui in 2004 – has been much copied throughout the tropical world.”

And he just can’t resist but blithely points out that in 1983, Bill Bensly worked with P.T. Wijaya on a residential project in Bali. And that it was Wijaya who “pointed Bensley down the garden path of ruinscapes and subtle landscape follies.” But the author also takes the opportunity to praise Bensley for his landscapes which are “poetic and natural, and teeming with cultural reference.”
Like any artistic profession, the field of landscape design is full of divos whose respective egos often dwarf the landscape. But credit must be given to Made Wijaya for acknowledgeing the work of even his rivals – whether he cares to admit it or not. But with a book like this and deadlines to contend with, not every big name in the tropical landscaping business hads been included. There’s always Volume Two. And naturally, with a wit like Made Wijaya writing such a book, barbed comments are everywhere.
And for those who recognize themselves or personalities hinted at, the contents are all the more meaningful. There’s never a dull moment.

Lagerstroemia casts a pink glow over its metal-clad partner, the building – the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, designed by Frank Gehry

On Designing Modern Gardens, the author stresses that: “That lesson I hope to impart in this chapter is: one can achieve a modern look without the garden looking either homogenized, soul-less, bird-less or god-less.” That line best sums up the author’s garden design philosophy. And we, in Southeast Asia, should pay heed. 

Author’s work  
Made Wijaya was born in Sydney as Michael White but moved to Bali in 1973.
Having designed over 1,000 gardens and 50 houses in the tropical world, Wijaya is a recognized authority on tropical gardens and architecture, with offuces in bali and Singapore.
He has published several books, including Tropical Garden Design, At Home in Bali, and Architecture of Bali: A source Book of Traditional and Modern Forms.
His recent projects include the Naples Botanical Gardens in Florida and the former palace gardens of the Nizam of Hydrabad in India.

Garden tips
Being a well-known landscape consultant himself, the author of Modern Tropical Garden Design is most generous with his advice and trade secrets.
Some of his tips are practical and easy to apply, for instance, “In a courtyard garden, trees are best chosen for their shade and flowering potential. If a giat tropical tree is planted, the garden will eventually be plunged into darkness…” (pg.118, Plants) If only I had this advice before I planted my Orange Jessamine plant in my front yard.

But when he advices against too much furniture for the patio, only the truly gifted designer can decide what is considered too much. He states: ‘Peopling a curtyard with potted plants and garden furniture make a court cosy.

“However, too much and the garden architecture loses its modernist edge.” (pg.68, Courtyards & Patios). If you are a Liberace fan, too much for some may mean not enough for you.

  • What can be gleaned from the book is that modern topical gardens need not be “staff and unfriendly”. Tips from Made Wijaya include:
  • Pavings: When laying stones, the pattern is important. Too complicated a design makes for a busy landscape and can lead to edge and copings looking too garish.
  • Lighting: modern gardens are often over-lit, with an over dependency on spotlights. A well-lit garden, like a well-lit interior, should have a balanced combination of light washes, lanters, and spots. These light sources should not be visible.
  • Walls: Stone may be readily available in today’s landscape marketplace but is best used sparingly – for edges, stair treads and entertainment areas.
  • Colour should match the exterior architecture and the hardscape; colour schemes must not be uncomfortable to the eye.

Another great tip from the book is a list of plants favorured by Raymond Jungles for his tropical garden designs. The author states that, “A landscaper’s plant list is the result of years of travel and experimentation.” Having the list is one thing but successfully creating the desired garden is quite another. But we can always draw inspiration from it.

Cover : This Brazilian ranch style home has pool court designed by Roberto Burle Marx. His fascination with geometric is on display here
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