I'm not sure when it was that I came across the vertical gardens of Patrick Blanc but I was immediately struck by their beauty and quite intrigued by their construction and the ideas behind them.
The vertical garden probably most known by Australians but ironically the least seen is in the Qantas first class lounge in Sydney. A collaboration with the designer Marc Newson many images of it have been displayed in various publications. Alas alack I am unlikely ever to set foot in the vicinity. So it was with particular delight that I saw as part of the Melbourne International Design Festival that Patrick Blanc would be creating a work in one of Melbourne's shopping centres and in addition giving a lecture on his work.
So one cold Friday night a couple of weeks ago I set off to attend Patrick Blanc's lecture. I had thought that perhaps his work was a bit of a niche interest but no - the lecture theatre gradually filled to almost overflowing with interested Melburnians.
He was duly introduced and took the stage - a visual delight in a black leather suit, fetchingly set off with a white shirt with a green leafy pattern and the whole ensemble topped and tailed by green shoes and black hair with a slash of green through it - it was worth leaving my warm home for the mere sight of him!
With great energy he took the stage and began his talk on his gardens. He was quick to point out that he is not a designer but a "scientist". A botanist in fact who has travelled the world primarily in tropical regions and has studied the plants that grow on steep slopes and in the understory of tropical rainforest.
The fascinating thing about all this is that many of the plants he spoke of are often those most cosseted by us in our gardens and here they were, some living in quite extreme positions and conditions with neither great soil conditions nor constant water. As many of the photos were taken in tropical regions some of these plants are more commonly known as "houseplants" and are used for his indoor vertical gardens in cooler climates but others were quite hardy. Some of these common plants included hydrangeas, begonias, alocasias, cycads and various ferns.
He illustrated his talk of how nature's vertical gardens grow showing us examples of some very common plants which take on a quite extraordinary and somehow more beautiful arrangement when tumbling down a rock wall or similar.
It reminded me of how useful it is to know not only where plants originate but where they naturally exist. And for many it is on steep slopes particularly when they come from countries where any flat land has been cultivated for centuries confining the natural flora to the non-arable land. The other thing to note of course is that with plants taken straight from nature you are working with species rather than hybrids which are often developed to enhance characteristics that we prize more highly in our garden plants such as flower colour and size.
So a few days aftern the lecture I visited Melbourne Central to view his latest work. As it had been completed only the day of the lecture I was keen to see it before it was fully grown to see how the entire structure works. I thought it would be a lot more sparse than it was - but it is planted much like a show garden is for a flower show - with plants at a much closer spacing than you would normally plant. Overall I thought it beautiful but was disappointed in the scale of the work. The shopping centre is vast and is dominated by a the central shot tower which is encased in a glass dome. The tower is at the centre of the circular, layered shopping centre and immediately my mind ran away with me thinking how one would look cascading down the side of the tower or around the sides of the shopping centre itself much like the one at the Paragon Shopping Center in Bangkok. Nevertheless I am excited that it is there and look forward to seeing how it grows and develops over time. The vertical garden certainly adds more to a shopping centre than a few mother in law's tongue plants in a planter or even worse dust covered synthetic ones!
Next post in Part 2 I intend to look a little more closely at the construction and the plants used so stay tuned!