I’ve been a honey judge, a restaurant judge, even a porridge judge, but Iv’e never been a garden judge. And judging from my take on the gardens in competition at Singapore’s Garden Festival last week, that’s because the experts and I don’t see eye to eye on what makes an exciting garden.
This is the garden that won Gold, and Best in Show. It’s by Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam, and is called Sacred Grove. It reminds me of the welcome area of an upmarket Balinese or Thai resort. Someone gorgeous is just about to bring a lemongrass cordial while we fill in the paperwork. (And I needed a lemongrass cordial and a cool towel because it was wiltingly hot in Singapore!) But as a garden, it doesn’t do much for me. The trees on the top storey seem puny and inconsequential compared to the dynamism of the diagonal columns, and the ground surface feels both exposed and claustrophobic.
I do love that curtain vine, Cissus sicyoides, cascading from the oculus. But this is not a garden I want to be in.
The one I want to be in, is this one:
It’s by Brendan Moar. Those of you who were at Australian Garden Show Sydney will recognise parts of this. (Those who weren’t or want a reminder, can see some pix here.) Brendan wanted to explore the idea of the vertical line a bit more in his garden for Singapore. I like the division of the space, the repetition of shapes and colours and I like the chain, which looks like rain, and also does a good job of defining the garden and shielding it from the visual pollution of everything else going on in the festival.
As well as being quite Euclidean, with its thin straight lines contrasted against round forms in purple-leafed lorepetalum, islands of grass, granite stones and rounded leaf shapes, the garden was an exploration of texture. Underfoot you could imagine the ridges of the boardwalk, the smooth coolness of the concrete slab, the roughness of the stone and the softness of the grass – a kind of reflexology of the garden.
I wasn’t alone in finding myself drawn to it. Visitors photographed it, and snuck in over the rope to photograph themselves in it. Ivan Koh, project director of Hawaii Landscape, Brendan’s Singapore partner, and the installer of the garden told me that four of his clients had asked him to repeat the garden on their own properties. Yet while Ivan won an award for the quality of his installation, the garden itself didn’t wow the judges and only scored a silver. Where would I rather pull up a chair? No question.