Friday, November 23, 2012

View from the welcoming south - Argentina

A figure who was part of an exhibition at Villa Ocampo, at San Isidro, Argentina, last week.
I am almost overwhelmed! So much enthusiasm, interest and passion here, in Argentina and Uruguay. Several people say that there is something of a gardening boom going on. There is certainly an incredible thirst for ideas and knowledge in a small but tightly-knit garden and landscape community. It is a fantastic experience being amongst such enthusiastic and receptive people, but also the feeling that I have so much to learn – every time I open my mouth I am aware that I am about to say something which does not apply to this part of the world.
Martinq Barzi, me, Josefina Casares and John Brookes.
Jo and I are here primarily to visit Amalia Robredo, a garden designer who works on the Maldonado coast (that's the bit which goes up from the deep cut on the right hand side of the southern cone of South America). More about her in a later blog. She introduced me to Josefina Casares and Martina Barzi, who run Pampa Infinita, a garden design school they set up some years ago with the support of John Brookes. Josefina and Martina are clearly one of those very effective partnerships where the whole is greater than the sum of the (very capable) parts. Working primarily as designers (throughout the southern cone), they have a determination to share their knowledge and skills and involve others in doing likewise.
A wonderful courtyard space at Josefina's.
An ingeneous 'screen' in the garden of Gracie Ullman, one of the Pampa Infinita graduates. The idea is that some interestingly painted poles will distract the eye from the view behind, without going to the trouble of building something more substantial.

Dear old John Brookes, now in his early eighties, I think. I hope I am as energetic as he is when I get to that age. Russia, USA, Argentina, he seems to be constantly on the move. One evening I watch him as he sits with Josefina and Martina, like a genial buddha with his top disciples, gently radiating wisdom. His garden design methodology has proved enormously successful at getting people to think creatively, and is the core of the teaching here. Not everyone finds it useful, but then those who don't, probably have their own strong design sense. I suppose I have a similar kind of core methodology – about plant selection, which I am trying to get across to people here in a series of lectures and workshops.
Plectranthus neochilus - plant selection is not great here, but several nice members of this mint family genus which we never see back home. Not hardy but very good for summer displays.

Nearly all of what I do has to be interpreted. Thank you Josefina, Amalia and Mariana Hogg. You've done a great job. Being interpreted rather cramps your style but it is an incredibly effective way of focussing the mind. Everything you say is like a haiku poem – it has to be self-contained, and coherent …. and simple. Different interpreters force you to work in different ways: Josefina is very experienced and I can pitch her several complex sentences. Amalia has never done this before, and I have to half the number of sentences – which makes the need to concentrate information into little nuggets even more important. 
Landscapers in a landscape - Amalia Robredo at La Pasionaria with colleagues.

Ideally I run workshops in gardens so we can look at plants. Getting people to look at the leaf/stem/root relationship is very important, hence the name 'Rabbit's eye view' for what is currently my most popular workshop. Except I was told this did not translate well into Spanish - or more likely would be read as "what is this mad Englishman on about?". Plant selection here is limited, although there are plenty of little nurseries. We've had to borrow plants from them in containers so these can be passed around. At Villa Ocampo we had to stage a breakfast time raid on a nursery to get plants, croissants and coffee in hand.
 On to Uruguay - so more later!

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