The Singapore Garden Festival is in full swing and there are some amazing gardens to see. This biennial festival is big, with about 300,000 visitors (roughly twice that of the Chelsea Flower Show) showing the huge popularity of gardening in tropical Asia, even in places where most people can only dream of having their own garden.
To get a show garden designer’s spot at the SGF is not an easy thing, as you have to be invited to participate, and the invitation only arrives after at least one Gold award in another international show, and probably a Best in Show under your belt as well. This means there’s a very high standard and it comes without the angst of the usual show garden build, as designers are allocated sufficient budget and a local construction team by the show organisers. For designers in most garden shows, the worst part of a show garden build is both trying to find sponsors, and then being limited to that sponsor’s product or plants. Not so in Singapore.
The SGF is at the world renown Gardens By the Bay site for the first time in 2014. The new tents housing the Fantasy Gardens are now huge and raise the limit of the designer’s creativity from only a few metres to nearly 10 metres. The other significant feature of the SGF is the part played by Singapore’s National Parks – usually just called N-Parks. Its horticultural excellence is everywhere, with its own NP display garden but also the way it has decorated the entire site, with trees, shrubs, orchids, perennials and its own adorable homemade sculpture. Even the utilities are beautifully disguised with jute wrappings. Very clever.
Landscape Show Gardens
There are 8 Landscape Show Gardens at SGF in 2014, with a very well-credentialed international field including designers from the UK, USA, Australia, Japan, and of course local Singaporeans. Landscape Show Gardens are designed to be viewed from around all 4 sides, and this is a major difficulty for both the designers and for those seeing the gardens. I think it’s an interesting exercise for the designers and really stretches their skills, however the result is a garden that is often ‘transparent’, which happens when you’ve created views in from all sides. From a reporter’s point of view it also makes for impossible photography, as you can never get a good shot without tents, flags, seats, other gardens or background displays intruding on your view of the garden. I’ve done my best and added some close cropping but you’ll see what I mean.
In this blog, I’ll talk about the Best in Show and Gold winners.
Gold, and Best in Show – Andrew Wilson and and Gavin McWilliam created Sacred –
“a manifestation of the universal concept that a space is both spiritual and reflective”
I found this garden difficult to relate to. It’s a very open affair, almost transparent on both its levels, which allows the surroundings to distract and even overwhelm the garden – not the designer’s fault of course. I like the strong, angled steel supports but they felt restless and even energetic rather than spiritual and reflective, and too heavy and solid when compared to the spindly, more upright tree forms on the roof.
I liked the simple colour palette of green, and neutrals, with pale grey, black, white and rusty browns but again, the shapes on the ground plane seemed unrelated and a bit odd.
This is a different and more experimental kind of show garden which I feel garden shows need to have, but the spaces and textures didn’t work together. I’m surprised that it won Best in Show and many designers I’ve spoken to in Singapore agreed.
Gold – Jim Fogarty – Australasia
‘Australasia‘ has Jim Fogarty’s signature lush planting amid strong structure, in this garden painted up with intense blue, orange and chartreuse, all inspired by the colourful bark of the rainbow tree, Eucalyptus deglupta. It’s an ‘east-meets-west’ design style, blending an Australian outdoor living approach with Chinese feng shui. This is worked through layout, planting (many species are found throughout subtropical south-east Asia and Australia) and also a teahouse, ‘in-floor’ dining style.
The planting design is wonderful, showing a strong artistic aesthetic we’ve come to expect in Jim’s creations and an ability to easily translate that style from cool temperate Mediterranean plants to tropical and subtropical species.
I liked Jim’s garden although it suffered on the day I saw it from site drainage problems which had created a less than encouraging smell. From a show goer’s point of view, it suffered from feeling like there was much to see inside, but of course I couldn’t access whatever that was.
However, it’s a garden worthy of Gold and I hope that it encourages Jim’s new Singapore-based design business as he has much to offer.
Gold – ‘Full Circle?‘ designed by Andy Sturgeon
Jim Fogarty’s partner in his Singapore design business, GardenDesignAsia is UK designer Andy Sturgeon.
Now this is a super-impressive garden. Huge, black, ridged cones dominate the garden’s skyline, counterposed against slender, arching palm trunks and a ground plane thicket of large-leafed and strap foliage and huge, warm-coloured boulders.
Inside some of the cones, delicate orchids hide, their golden flowers highlighted by warm backlighting.
From others, water pours.
I loved the contrast of the massive cones with the little orchids, the smooth copper interior of each cone and how it reflected water, and the jumble of interlocking shapes.
For me, this was the garden deserving of Best in Show