While magnificent examples of the ancient art of tropical garden design are scattered throughout the tropical world, it is an art that has never been fully recognized nor documented. However there is now a growing appreciation of this rich legacy and an awakening to the variety and scope of designing modern gardens under tropical conditions.
Tropical gardens are prolific and luxuriant, requiring an ability to see a shape through the abundance, with few reference points for the design. By contrast, creating a garden in temperate climes begins with an encyclopedic knowledge of how it should look a prepared canvas – some trees, a patch of grass, a few shrubs – and a profusion of colorful plants and flowers to help paint the picture.
A 'living room built into the side of a hill' and 'two sunken courtyards grew out of the design', describes made of this architectural gem for a Singapore client.
Over the past two decades, the urbane, affable Made Wijaya (Michael White) has created or transformed over 400 gardens in the tropical world. As a gardener he is part of a tradition that is timeless, and would have been ecstatic to have landed the contract for Eden, or the Hanging Garden of Babylon.
In his first foray into global publishing, Wijaya has woven a joyous compilation of descriptive narrative and brilliant photographs celebrating two decades of his work.
His ‘Collections’ as he calls them, stem from an early love affair with Balinese palace courtyard-style gardens, his studies of the ancient capital of East Java’s Hindu empire, Majapahit, as well as from a variety of architectural principles he has absorbed through his travels in Asia. These influences and his crystal-like acuity have enabled him to compose gardens in a unique, painterly way – gardens that are striking and picturesque yet always respectful of their lineage.
Wijaya studied architecture at Sydney University and became a garden designer only by chance after he made Bali his home 25 years ago. It is a change of course he has never regretted.
His ‘Tropical Costswolds’ style began as a tribute to England’s great country gardens and the legendary Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. This much copied ‘look’ is best exemplified by the Bali Hyatt, Sanur, and, more recently, The Four Seasons Resort, Jimbaran – densely layered with voluptuous plantings of ‘native’ plants, interspersed with statuary, ethnic pots and urns brimming with water lilies and vivid shrubs.
He is now making his mark on a variety of international private housing commissions using what he calls ‘the jewellery and handbags of my collections,’ or ‘artwork accents’ in the restricted space of most city gardens. Wijaya’s placement of these objects – a statue, an urn, or a pavilion sited in the English manner – add pizzazz and gaiety to contemporary garden settings.
Famous for his ‘commando squads’ of Balinese gardener artisans, as well as for his global client list, Made Wijaya has made his home since the 1980s in the sublime Villa Bebek, Sanur, a walled compound of twelve thatched pavilions, with terraces shaded by flowering trees and shrubs, and pathways leading to quiet ‘courts’ around a Hockney-inspired pool. Villa Bebek is his muse, and a hymn of praise to Wijaya’s great ability to create ‘nature’.
Made Wijaya’s book, Tropical Garden Design, richly illustrated and resplendent with dazzling photographs of exotic gardens, describes the paths he has taken to develop his unique style, designing gardens that are the very antithesis of their Asia colonial predecessors – a square of ‘lawn’ and shrubs arranged in neat herbaceous borders.
Few books in the past have defined and inspired the art of tropical garden design, so it is good to find one from a grandmaster who shares – for the first time – his intuitive design techniques, as well as his accumulated historical knowledge and ideas. It is certain to engender a love of gardens in all who read it, and in an age when many of our fast-paced society are hooked on concrete corners and minimalism, perhaps just what we need is a better understanding of the timeless art of gardening and what Made Wijaya calls ‘artful naturalism’.