Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Noted Ubud Horticulturalist Nyonya Betty Buduh-Paling at her nursery in downtown Ubud.

Immediately, at first face-full of spider’s web, I remember all the lush Ubud gardens of my lost youth (spent eating hamburger buns spread thick with Blue Brand margarine and Vegemite at John Darling’s poetic pondok home in the rice fields above Ubud) and of the day I brought back to Sanur a bemo-load of ‘ravine whiskers’ (ferns) which died overnight in the dry, salty, coastal heat.

A very nice publisher from Jakarta recently asked me to write “more about Balinese Gardens” for the upcoming Indonesian language edition of my pivotal, seminal “Tropical Garden Design” book (WIJAYA WORDS/EDM, 1999), a copy of which I’m sure you all have.

The book’s translator, Ibu Jenny Kartawinata, said that she wanted “more of me” in the Indonesian language edition. I felt obliged to tell her that I really had no more to ‘give’: writing about gardens is something I used to do, before the Zen explosion wiped out the fledging New Age Romantic Garden Movement; these days I only take myself seriously as an exotic dancer at various office-openings, and at memorials.

Last month I was invited by Martin Grounds — of the venerable firm of Grounds-Kent Architects — to dance at their new office opening, in Jimbaran. I channelled both Paris Hilton and Jayne Mansfield in a performance described as “scintillating” by James Watling of the Bali Advertiser. “A rare attempt at career suicide,” he continued.

Now read on:

15th February 2010:
The Ubud Home of South East Asian ‘gallerist’, Valentine Willy

“Gallerist” is a new expression in the Jakarta art world — controlled, as it is, by a handful of savvy Chinese with developing taste. I apply the term to the dynamic Valentine Willy only lightly.

Willy has art galleries in Yogyakarta (with homewares czar Sir Warwick Purser), Manila, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, his home town. In fact he was born in Pontianak with a bamboo stake in his nose, but that’s another story.

Willy has the most splendid garden in Tebesaya, south of the Ubud cemetery, west of the Jazz Café, through a car park of a nice Gusti family who run a warung.

A quaint ‘adobe’ gate — framed in verdure leafy loveliness — catches one’s eye and sucks one in …… to terrace after terrace of horticultural splendour, culminating in a drop-dead-gorgeous ravine-view.

Immediately, at first face-full of spider’s web, I remember all the lush Ubud gardens of my lost youth (spent eating hamburger buns spread thick with Blue Brand margarine and Vegemite at John Darling’s poetic pondok home in the rice fields above Ubud) and of the day I brought back to Sanur a bemo-load of ‘ravine whiskers’ (ferns) which died overnight in the dry, salty, coastal heat.

Willy serves us home-made laksa — a peranakan delicacy — and two pints of beer. At the end of lunch I am lead next door to Bambu Indah, another exquisite garden designed by Cornelius Choy, an Hawaiian-Chinese friend of Willy’s, and executed by Anak Agung Alit, an old buddy of mine from Ubud’s salubrious seventies, when men ate men, and women cried on sofas over mushroom tea. (Whatever that is? Ed.)

Mr. Cornelius Choy — designer, with Agung Alit, of the superb Bambu Indah gardens and homestay in Tebasaya.

Choy has designed a multi-terrace, multi-faceted honey-mooners hostelry encompassing gardens of such loveliness that I fell humbled, just as I feel the damp rising. Choy has successfully married the Hawaiian garden look, with its horticultural high kicks — banks of begonias and bromeliads, amidst Dragon Claw vines and plumeria — with a dramatic mosaic hardscape that is magical and mystical, in a nice cozy Ubud way.

I go home, positively inspired by the experience and write the following:

Ubud Gardens

When I first went to Ubud in 1973 I was impressed by the fecundity and the glowing greenness everywhere: it was so like the town of Sintra, a mist-draped hill station above Lisbon, Portugal.

I was amazed by the tunnel of bamboo that leads to the Campuan River — where bathing springs were decorated with statues and spouts caked in glittering moss, and framed with curtains of dripping lacy ferns.

In those days one could only approach Ubud from Peliatan via corridor of enormous lychee trees.

I visited the Puri Saraswati Palace with its water gardens alive with pink lotus and its magnificent temple gate by the great artist I Gusti Nyoman Lempad. All Ubud gardens just seemed phantasmagorical!!

At the Hotel Campuan I paid homage to artist Walter Spies it was his old home, and swam in the natural edge, spring-fed pool that had been a gifted to Spies in 1936 by Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. I visited the garden of Australian poet film-maker John Darling who lived in a bamboo hut and had a beautiful Ubud rice-farmers garden with packed dirt courtyard floor, Balinese garden plants (hibiscus, gardenia, plumeria) and a simple volcanic tuft shrine in a small lily-pond. His garden bathroom (a real Ubud speciality) was shaped like a barong; but guests would more often trek down the side of the ravine which bordered his property, through curtain after curtain of mountain ferns to the pancoran spring below.

It was John Darling who first encouraged sculptor Wayan Cemul (who had himself worked for Dutch artist Rudolf Bonnet as a gardener, as a young boy) to create flower pots and garden art in his unique primitive-modern style. Years later, in the 1990s, this writer, as well as landscape architect Bill Bensley, further developed Cemul garden art into decorative walls and fountain and lanterns.

So many foreigners had created exquisite gardens in the 1970s Rudolf Bonnet, Hans Snell, Antonio Blanco, Victor Mason, Walter Folle, Warwick Purser inspired in no small part by the magnificent garden-temples that ring the township, such as the Pura Campuan, and by the romantic courtyard gardens of the Ubud villagers themselves.

Today, almost 40 years later, the village-scape has become a series of shopping malls; but behind the village’s walls, and in the restaurants, one still finds magnificently moist gardens, replete with the mossy statues, and the nocturnal frog symphonies and the cute water features that define an Ubud garden.

The Puri Lukisan Museum of Art and the Neka Museum support vast gardens of botanical garden splendour where ‘battalions’ of heliconia flowers cascade from steep sloped banks; exotic vines — Dragons Claw, Jade Vine, and Thunbergia mysorensis (which only survive in the cooler mountain air) — droop from pergolas and covered bridges.

Ubud is still very much an artist’s town — foreigners like jeweller Jean-Francois Fichot compete with locals, as they always have, for the most poetic garden and rarest plant.

One artistic collaboration is worth special note — the 300 m2 Tebesaya, Ubud garden of Hawaiian-born Cornelius Choy and Anak Agung Alit from nearby Peliatan. The house-cum-homestay is approached via a long narrow lane, encrusted with rare vines and creepers. Then follows a series of garden terraces interconnected by stairs, all paved in light celadon-green and white “Chinese mosaic” tiles. All the buildings are painted green.

Red Bromeliads nest on Plumeria tree branches, like a family of miniature monkeys. Giant Castor-oil plants sit in terrazzo pots, like Japanese Maples. Small mounds of miniature Mondo grass — sprinkled daily with blue rose petals — surround delicate fish ponds full of golden Koi fish. Water tumbles down rocks over layers of lichen and moss. During the day there is a pervading scent of cempaka, and, at night, the Cestrum nocturnum vine perfumes the valley.

Ubud artists are great painters of nature the tenderness they put into their paintings often flows from their love of gardens.


Valentine Willy’s fabulous garden home


Corners of Bambu Indah gardens.


19th February 2010: Ground-Kent Architects new office is inaugurated

Tonight I put all garden photos and my research books away and get out my ‘Bir Bintang’ beaded singlet — beaded with perfection, with their feet, by Land Dayaks in Borneo longhouses built from plantation timber. My more fashion-conscious readers will know that the ‘Bir Bintang’ singlet is the only ‘must-have’ item in one’s Bali Holiday wardrobe; I wear it tonight as an homage to my hosts, Perth-based architects Martin Grounds and Jack Kent.

I affect an animal print (extinct Bali tiger) hat and a white Bali-dog purse-puppy (Rp. 100.000 at Hardy’s); Perth-Based Bali Septic-Stray Dogs are the sponsors being tonight’s performance.

It is a fabulous night, celebrating the firm’s new office behind the celebrated Four Seasons Resort designed by them, and me, 15 years ago. Their Balinese architects have cooked up a superb pork-fest but drink too much of the palm toddy it seems — one local architect tries to souvenir my beaded merkin as I am ushered out the stage door by my security detail.

Left: Perth based exotic dancer Miss Widji Wienberg, official spokeswoman for Bir Bintang’s Leasurewear Brand, arrives at the Grounds-Kent Architects office opening with her bodyguard; Right: Miss Widji and Mr. Martin Grounds perform the rare Joged Free-O.