Birth of a Wave
A Garden overlooking the Pacific Ocean
By Mario Pisani
The setting is remarkably evocative – a garden or more accurately the sloping terrain of this distinctive house perched on the summit of a hill along the coastline of Chile, with scenic views over the Pacific Ocean. It is no coincidence that the dominant imagery is that of the waves in the sea. The perpetual movement of the sea as Paul Valery recalls in his poignant poem dedicated to the Marine Cemetery is always ready to renew and repeat itself. It is a movement that evokes the sweet dance of love which is the very origin of life. It is certainly not a coincidence that even our life originates from the sea.
The garden is perched over a steep cliff that embraces a splendid beach. The slow, arduous path between the house and the sea is enhanced by the fantastic colour of the vegetation selected and planted on a fertile dune, rich in organic matter and well-drained, originally covered with low shrubs known as Baccharis, sometime referred to as “sweeps” for the distinctive small narrow leaves that resemble brooms. There are over 500 different species that are to be found in the Americas, particularly in the warmer regions of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Mexico. There is also an abundant cover of herbaceous perennial shrubs that are resilient to the local climate as are the Eryngium paniculata. They are of a metallic blue colour, maybe a bit far removed from current fashion but blended with other plant species their presence is accentuated and enhanced. In fact, the English landscape architect Penelope Hobhouse has described them as, “The silvery or grey-blue foliage of the Eryngium that serves to accentuate the flowers in various hues ranging from metallic-blue to lavender-blue….
“The blossoms of these thistles have a spectral effect along the boulders and rocks, and are especially enchanting during sunset. Let them grow close to the Acanthus as a contrast with the foliage or a silvery border with hues of soft pastel colours and shades of white.” There are also delicate annuals such as the Schizantus; as well as the beautiful bulbs of which the most distinctive is the elegant Rhodophiala, even this being a native species of the Americas.
This region has a very rich biodiversity due to the topography of the surrounding hills which trap the humid moist currents emanating from the ocean, contributing to the formation of dense woods in the ravines, giving life to the bush that extends over most of the region and which is interspersed with the desert flora that originates from the terrain a few miles further north.
The landscape has been subjected to dramatic changes primarily due to grazing activities in the pastures and also due to real estate development. One of the main objectives of the project, which was the recipient of the second prize in the 2011 edition of the Tor San Lorenzo Nurseries, was that of trying to reinstate the original vegetation by the introduction of native species that grew in the same environment.
Recently, some nurseries and horticulturalists have been pursuing this sustainable approach. This has caused many to travel for several kilometres to identify nurseries of vulnerable plant species such as Alstroemeria pelegrina and the Puya venusta. The garden faces the challenge of re-defining the landscape context of the house on a monumental scale.
The landscape architects have proposed a ramp, some 50 metres long and 1 metre wide as the only man-made element, simulating a canoe or surf-board emanating from the sea, and that riding along the crest of a giant wave, extends all the way from the beach to the house. The design concept is derived from the writings of the famous poet Pablo Neruda, who having lived along the ocean coast narrates how he observed a piece of wood coming from the sea, waited patiently for it to arrive at the beach and then transformed it into a writing desk from where he conducted most of his writing. The wave of vegetation, resistant to the strong salt sea-borne wind currents, transforms itself into a sea of blue flowers that engage in a dialogue with the foam and constant movement of the ocean.
The garden is the work of architect Nicholas Cau (b.1970-) and Ricardo Campos Walker (b. 1968-), a graduate in Landscape Architecture from the ‘John Brookes School of Garden Design’.