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Garden Design

Juan Grimm in harmony with nature

Warwick Forge

Warwick Forge

July 15, 2013

Everyone responds to the gardens of Juan Grimm – leading South American designer – and I often wonder at their beauty and the reasons for their success. It is in his plantings and landscaping that we see how he harmonises with nature. In the garden at Melipilla, about an hour south of Santiago in Chile, he has created layers of horizontal planes, which echo the natural landscape and culminate in the house which in this picture, is barely visible within the landscape.

Melipilla garden, Chile Design Juan Grimm

Melipilla garden, Chile. Design Juan Grimm

His plantings are predominantly native and he declines to use bold exotics and hybrids and often prefers to grow local plants laboriously from seed. He adds to this local palette with similar subdued tones (especially green) which ensures harmony with the natural forests and vegetation. The limited colour palette and small leaved foliage ensures a subtlety and harmony as the natural and man-made landscapes mirror and merge within each other.

Much of central and northern Chile has a dry Mediterranean climate so that where he can find natural water flows, he delights in the creation of lakes and pools which provide a visual focus and source of wonder and also, an important attraction for wildlife.

Swimming pool Los Villos Design Juan Grimm

Swimming pool at Los Villos. Design Juan Grimm

Juan Grimm first studied architecture and he has a wonderful sense of structure. His own and most famous garden, is at Los Villos, looking over the Pacific. Over time, his planting became increasingly indigenous and it now cloaks the rocky shore as if it were always there in sharp contrast with his exquisite circular pool which beckons on a hot day. Phil Johnson of Chelsea fame and I had a splendid swim.

In his epic book and TV series, Around the World in 80 Gardens by Monty Don, the very first photograph when you open the book is of Los Villos. Monty Don says that all of Grimm’s work, “seeks to integrate the hand of man with the natural landscape and plants. This makes for a meaningful transformation, and in my opinion, some of the best landscape work on the planet”. Some people now rate Grimm to be one of the leading designers in the world.

Lake at the Allende garden. Design Juan Grimm

Lake at the Allende garden. Design Juan Grimm

Another garden which we love visiting is that of Mr Allende, which lies in central Chile and is home to extensive orchards. Again, Juan Grimm has created a superb lake in this dry district and the dwelling steps right down to the very lip of the water. The more distant side of the dwelling slopes upwards and merges into natural forest so that we have a wonderful sense of enclosure within the rainforest, an emergence into civilisation and also, a mysterious, vast water body, the extent of which is not visible from the dwelling. We approach the house through a series of landscaped terraces – again, with a fairly limited colour palette.

Landscaped terraces at the Allende garden. Design Juam Grimm

Landscaped terraces at the Allende garden. Design Juam Grimm

Finally, in addition to the larger country estates, Juan Grimm also works with smaller suburban gardens and last year we visited two in Santiago. In this example, Juan Grimm’s pool relies upon very basic, wholesome, elements – timber, water and the Andes – an elegant, modest sufficiency.

Santiago garden. Design Juan Grimm

Santiago garden. Design Juan Grimm

Juan Grimm will be one of many key international speakers at the Australian Landscape Conference, 20-24 September, 2013. In addition to the eleven presentations by international speakers, there is a wide range of interactive workshops which are open to people not registered for the conference. Each 90 minute workshop costs $65.00 and runs for 90 minutes. Juan Grimm and his gardens are also a key attraction for the ALC Garden tours. All of these events may be visited at www.landscapeconference.com

Note – we were delighted that so many people enjoyed our blog on Louisa Jones and Mediterranean Gardening. A splendid article has now been written by Megan Backhouse – ‘On Foreign Soil‘.

[This post is brought to you by the Australian Landscape Conference, Melbourne 2013]

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Paul Urquhart
Paul Urquhart
11 years ago

Juan Grimm is truly a one-off, isn’t he Warwick. I have fond memories of visiting his garden in 2012 on your tour and indeed of his first appearance at the Landscape Conference all those years ago. Even though it was pouring with rain on the day, the garden still sang with local plantings blending with exotics. The leaden skies even added something to the coastal view. The other gardens we visited also had the same lyrical quality. He really is a most talented practitioner and a charming man.

Warwick Forge
10 years ago
Reply to  Paul Urquhart

Yes, he’s a joy Paul.

What i really love about his gardens is their serenity and calmness.

His gardens certainly make you think about the purpose of your garden. In this mad crazy world, some calm serenity can be a heavenly retreat. It is all very low key and yet, one is immediately aware that the garden is a ‘place’ and the place has a soul.

Very nourishing Paul!

Julie Thomson
10 years ago

Marvellous and beautiful. The serenity and splendour of nature and human inspiration working in tandem. Santiago here I come.