Leon KlugeMy bucket-list show garden: Singapore Garden Festival 2016

The Singapore Garden Festival has been on my bucket-list for the longest time. As a show garden designer, it’s one of those shows I absolutely had to do, at least once. When invited to be part of the event, for me it was a feeling 10 times that of waking up as an 8-year-old on Christmas morning.

Landscape Garden by Leon Kluge and Bayley Luutomes of

Landscape Garden by Leon Kluge and Bayley Luutomes of KlugeLuutomes Design

This is a show where no expense is spared to entice the best designers to showcase their works to the public. The spectacle turns the huge piece of lawn at Gardens by the Bay into a green wonderland for the duration of the show. Preparing a design submission with Bayley, we sent in our concept sketch a year or so ago; it was ambitious and elaborate. As with everything in life it had to be toned down, not only to keep within budget but also to be achievable in the given time frame.

Leon Kluge and Bayley Luutomes

Us with our finished garden ‘Back to Nature’

Let me start with an explanation of our design concept and brief. Titled ‘Back to Nature’ it involves a world in a constant tug-of-war between man’s endeavours to build and develop his environment to the detriment of nature.

The aim of our garden is to integrate man and the biosphere by utilising man-made elements, such as the pod seating area and steps, fitted into a natural landscape and pond.

Pod seating in 'Back to Nature' garden

Pod seating area in ‘Back to Nature’ garden

The pod is nestled into a bank and is unified with the landscape by ‘living’ arms of grass embracing the structure, symbolizing a harmonious and symbiotic co-existence with nature that takes prominence in our built environment.

The fingerprint sculpture from above

The fingerprint sculpture from above

The pond alludes to man’s imprint on the planet, represented by the steel fingerprint sculpture nestled in the pond’s pebble bed. The sculpture, formed with the lines of a fingerprint pattern, begins in slightly murky water, signifying the pollution caused by man, then rises out of the water into a cleaner landscape, after a healthy co-existence with nature is achieved.

The concrete path being reclaimed by nature

The concrete path being reclaimed by nature

The man-made concrete path is being gently reclaimed by nature, and being slowly reshaped to nature’s uneven contours, drawing a parallel with how we too need to adapt to nature’s way.

The wire lights represent cocoons of new life

The wire lights represent cocoons of new life

The wire lights hanging scattered in the garden represent cocoons of new life, dependent on nature to flourish. This dependence is demonstrated by the ropes connected to the earth.

Singapore Garden Festival Leon Kluge Bayley Luutomes

The large dying tree in the garden represents man’s devastation on our forests. The 2 younger trees embody hope for the future if man can only find a way back to nature.

The plants creating a soft, tropical meadow

The plants creating a soft, tropical meadow

Sourcing the plants; this is the most important part for me!

The plants had to be different. They had to be inviting, to love the sun and hot outdoor weather during the show, and they had to turn the passing heads. Oh, and they needed to also create a soft tropical meadow.

So in order to achieve this I flew to tropical east Africa to collect seed of 2 plants I have loved since I was a little boy running around in the dusty fields between thorny acacias.

African foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba 'Alba')

African foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba ‘Alba’)

The first one is the African foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba ‘Alba’), a fabulous annual that is easy to grow, gives a mass of flowers, and is airy and open for other plants to grow in between it without trouble.

African grass (Melinis nerviglumis)

African grass (Melinis nerviglumis)

The other is the spectacular African grass (Melinis nerviglumis), known as ‘African’ but does occur in other areas throughout the warmer parts of the world. This fast growing grass has the most amazing silver foliage, with the flowers emerging purple, turning a fluffy pink when mature and then ice-white when almost finished.

Local tropicals such as orchids filled in the meadow

Local tropicals such as orchids filled in the meadow

With the backbone of the garden decided, I would fill in the garden with a range of other tropical plants found locally in Singapore, such as some wild orchids and angelonia for a spot of colour. I also flew in some ‘Black Madras’ rice seeds for the pond, a superb plant for any perennial garden it is quick and easy and these days available in a range of colours.

Singapore Garden Festival Leon Kluge Bayley Luutomes

Leptospermum in the ‘Back to Nature’ garden

We sourced the 3 Australian Leptospermum trees in Kuala Lumpur, and they were our biggest headache. Transporting the trees dried them out to the core and they started to shed leaves on an alarming rate; our brief allowed only one tree to be bare, not all of them!

One complication we didn’t plan for happened with the compost. Our compost delivery had most definitely not matured yet and was so hot inside I couldn’t put my hand in it. If we used it in that state the plants would have wilted and died in a night, so we mixed in loads of sand and water to cool it down. It was still warm in the end but at least not boiling.

Another hurdle was the humidity. If you need a crash diet, try building a garden in the tropics. I guarantee the kilos will roll off through sweat. During the middle of the day the heat forced us to stop work to avoid over-heating, continuing only when it cooled slightly later in the afternoon.

The lighting was an important element

The lighting was an important element

Lighting was an important part of the garden for us. With the show open to the public into the darkness of night, we wanted the garden to immerse onlookers into a completely altered set of emotions.

The lights were hand-made on site

The lights were hand-made on site

We handmade the outdoor garden chandeliers on site.

Step lighting accentuates details

Step lighting accentuates details

The 100sqm garden took 9 days to build and at times, as one always does at these shows, fears set in that we might not finish on time. Looking around us we were relieved to see the other designers were in exactly the same boat. And what a fantastic group of designers we had this year representing so many countries –  Australia, USA, France, UK, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Italy, South Africa, China and New Zealand.

The range of different designs was staggering. The show has grown in leaps and bounds, this year covering a massive 10 hectares. It is the biggest tropical garden show on earth and the biggest flower show in Asia.

Thank you to the Singapore Garden Festival for awarding us with Gold and Best Outdoor Lighting at this year’s show.

Here’s a video that explains more detail about the garden:

Singapore Garden Festival Leon Kluge Bayley Luutomes

 

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Leon Kluge

About Leon Kluge

Leon Kluge is an award-winning landscape designer who was part of the successful South African team at Chelsea in both 2010 and 2012, and the Gardening World Cup in Japan in 2011, and then won a Gold medal at the 2013 Cup. Leon is known for his modern, contemporary landscapes, sustainable community projects and his specialisation in vertical gardens. His company Leon Kluge Landscape Design is based in north-eastern South Africa.

3 thoughts on “My bucket-list show garden: Singapore Garden Festival 2016

  1. steve on said:

    Hi Leon – congratulations on your garden, its a real eye catcher with a great deal of detail, luv the organic shapes and soft lines

  2. helen on said:

    Beautiful, just beautiful. Congratulations Leon and Bayley!

  3. There are so many clever and beautiful design ideas here! I especially like how you disguised the wiring for the light. The rope winding around the ropey Leptospermum bark looks perfect. And I’m in love with Melinis although I don’t think it’s available in Australia.
    The other thing I’m really drawn to in this garden is the grass inserts on the steps. They look great in plan view but also looking across at the steps they take away the smooth line of the step edge in elevation as well. They are obviously easy to use and well-proportioned but look irregular and uneven. I like design that bends my perceptions.

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