Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Master Gardener

by Leighton Gage

Brazil is blessed by more varieties of plants than any other country.
So is it any wonder that Brazil produced one of the world’s greatest landscape architects?

His name was Roberto Burle Marx.

He intended to become a painter, but his mother had, from his earliest days, imbued him with a love of gardening, and he began to recognize the artistic potential in the shapes, sizes and hues of flowers and plants.

In time, he came to regard landscape design as an art in itself, not as a backdrop or decoration to architecture. And he decided to specialize in it.

His aesthetics were nature based.

He never mixed flowers of different colors.

He preferred large groupings of the same specimen.

And he had a preference for plants that were natural to the regions in which he worked.

Burle Marx had a hand in designing some parts of Brasília, including its hanging gardens, but among Brazilians he is best known for his many projects to beautify the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Rio’s largest park, the Aterro do Flamengo, built on reclaimed seafront just southwest of downtown, is an early example of one of his signature projects.

But for sheer sweep, nothing surpasses the promenade of Copacabana, with its rippled sidewalks, clusters of palms and colorful abstract stone mosaics. From the upper floors of the hotels that line Avenida Atlantica, one appears to be looking at a single canvas four kilometers long.

Burle Marx’s most elaborate and time-consuming effort was the abandoned estate he bought in Guaratiba, near Rio, in 1948.

It was here that he established his garden, nursery and tropical plant collection. Functioning as his workshop, laboratory and office until his death, in 1994, at the age of 84, it is now owned by the Brazilian government. The Sítio Roberto Burle Marx, as it is now called, houses over 3,500 species of native plants. And has become a Mecca for landscape architects throughout the world.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Breathtaking gardens and photography, Leighton.

Jaden Terrell said...

Wow, Leighton. As someone with the brownest thumb on the planet, I'm awed by this.