Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Currently in flower at present in the garden is my ginger, lobster plant or parrots bill Heliconia subulata. This plant is a native of South America, just one of up to thirty species related to the banana Musa sp. which has similar leaves. I was first introduced to this plant by a friend of mine who specialises in going to far flung places to explore and bring back new and interesting plants. (His adventures make another story!) Various species of Heliconia are much utilised by the cut flower industry due to their longevity when cut. Many of the species are truly tropical in their demands of climate and therefore are imported for the cut flower industry. I believe more species will be introduced as we discover those that will tolerate cooler conditions.

It would be difficult to consider the Heliconia without mention of the famous Brazilian landscape designer, the late Roberto Burle Marx, who used many different species of Heliconia in his designs. Of the most famous of his public schemes would have to be the along the beach of Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. Running adjacent to the sand and the frolicking sun worshipers is a footpath incorporating a wave pattern made from mosaic pavers. This pattern is derivative of patterns found in Portugal’s streets. Across the road in the park are more mosaics of abstract designs reflecting Roberto Burle Marx’s talent as a modernist artist. In fact he started his career as an artist in the modernist style, but soon came to learn and be interested in plants. So the nature of his palate changed and many public parks and spaces are the legacy of this, it isn’t surprising some of his plans look more like works of art. Another spectacular example of his work is in Brasilia, the Capital. Here he worked with the modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, and created really interesting and possibly challenging works. Unfortunately much of the landscape has suffered neglect, the mass planting of different plants used to create changes in textures and form have been lost, foot worn tracks lead through what now just look like waste land, a pity for when first completed I felt these landscapes were inspirational. Much of his work involved hard landscape, using both man made elements as well as natural features. His mosaics are reminiscent of the way the Portuguese use ceramic tiles in their gardens, but in Brasilia he used large pieces of stone shaped to look like enormous crystals protruding from a lake in front of the Ministry of the Army every bit a match for the space age looking building in the back ground.

Another contribution Roberto Burle Marx made was in the area of conservation. He explored and brought into cultivation very many plant species from the interior of Brazil. He was also instrumental in raising the profile of threatened areas of forest with significant plant diversity. This was a man larger than life, not only in stature but also in talent and personality, someone I should have liked to have met. He apparently used to entertain guest by singing opera, not to mention the fact he spoke six languages! With all this in mind, pulling a few weeds and tying up my grapevine no longer seem insurmountable!


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