Many of the gardens designed by Burle Marx have been demolished or languish under neglect but many are lovingly maintained. A few we can visit quite easily, more though are hard to see unless on an organised tour. Of the four I mention here, only the first is freely open to the public.
Instituto Moreira Salles, Gavea
This building and garden was once the private residence of the Walter Moreira Salles, the wealthiest man in Brazil and a banker/philanthropist. The building is now a film, music and theatre museum but the garden is largely intact.
It bears many of the hallmarks of modern tropical garden design – massed plantings of soft perennials, curving sinuous paths, pools and Burle Marx’s signature blue mosaic walls. While it may look familiar it is refreshing to see one of the originals. The house dates form the 1950s and is a fine example of modern residential architecture.
The garden is on a sloping site that sits comfortably with the surrounding remnant of Atlantic rainforest, the Thijuca national park Parque Nacional Tijuca. The architecture is important because the garden was designed in sympathy with it. A simple iron railing frames diamond shaped marble pavers and white painted concrete screen and on side, is a modernist take on a traditional parterre with Duranta repens and buxus in-filled with caricature plant (Graptophyllum pictum) and bloodleaf (Iresine herbstii).
Beyond the house is a quite large garden comprising a paved area where pool, pond and a formal courtyard with a marble Chinese dragon sculpture and a natural section intersected by a stream with a wilderness planting style. This is quite a contrast to the more formal living spaces. Nowadays there is a café with outdoor seating beside the Burle Marx tiled mosaic.
Edmundo Cavanelas Residence, near Petropolis, Brazil now owned by Gilberto Strunk.The famed architect, Oscar Neimeyer who died recently, designed the house and gave it its wing like roof structure. It forms the central focus of the garden and determined the abstract planting forms devised by Burle Marx. The garden occupies a large valley – on one side, natural forest covers the slope, grass and trees on the other. Viewed from above, we see a chequerboard pattern made from green and variegated forms of Stenotaphrum, known as buffalo or St Augustine grass, plus modernist parterres of red iresine and lime green duranta.
In front of the house large sweeping forms planted with red iresine create a sweeping visual feast before the large pond lined with orchid-strewn trees with the water’s edge populated with waterfowl and plovers. A walk beside the pond takes you to the forest walk with tantalising views back over the painted landscape. It is this broad-scale work for which Burle Marx is most famous and this is a striking example.
Raul de Souza Martins Residence, Petropolis, Brazil
Architect, Raul de Souza Martins is owner of this garden and a proud owner too. His small, but perfectly formed house and its large garden shows all the signs of being cherished both for the beauty of its design and for its heritage. A very steep drive is the way in to the property. I walked up through the forested setting to see the full volume of the valley in which is situated and panoramic views of the house, garden and pool. The house fills a level space below a high hill so steep that when a favela started to encroach on the site, a landslide carried the shanties down the hill to the back door of the house. Needless to stay, the favela is confined now to the other side of the peak.
Banks planted with colourful shrubs, trees and climbers and level areas around house built by means of a cantilevered slab creating terraces that lead down to the pool and pool house. The garden occupies two levels surrounded by native trees and palms. On upper level are native Weddel palms (Lytocaryum weddellianum syn Microcoelum weddellianum).
One of my favourite plants, golden candles (Pachystachys lutea) and coral plant (Russelia equisitiformis) surrounds a multilevel waterfall. Interplanted among large drifts of these are the striking pink and orange-flowered coral aphelandra (Aphelandra sinclairiana) and Mexican lily (Beschorneria youccoides). We also find Tibouchina granulosa, yesterday, today and tomorrow (Brunfelsia uniflora), Brazilian red cloak (Megaskepasma erythrochlamys) with old-fashioned foliage plants, boldly planted Philodendron bipinnatifidum and Monstera deliciosa, looking amazing and nostalgic. Most of the plants are very common and popular in Sydney gardens from the 1950s till now, but first used in Burle Marx gardens.
From Australia, Warwick Forge is leading a tour that includes the gardens of Burle Marx from 12th Oct – 2 Nov 2013. For information and itineraries contact Warwick Forge firstname.lastname@example.org T: 03 9804 8915 See http://www.landscapeconference.com/2013/tours.html