Postcard: Fazenda Vargem Grande by Roberto Burle Marx

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Fazenda Vargem Grande is an extensive garden in Brazil on the site of a former coffee plantation (1979–1990), designed by Roberto Burle Marx.

Fazenda Vargem Grande is an extensive garden in Brazil on the site of a former coffee plantation (1979–1990), designed by Roberto Burle Marx. Image: Marc Treib

Roberto Burle Marx (1909–1994) is universally heralded as one of the twentieth century’s greatest landscape architects and an expert horticulturalist. His understanding of Brazilian flora was so deep that it is said he only used plants native to Brazil in making his landscapes. Alas, this statement is misleading. In April 2016 I had the privilege of spending the weekend at the Fazenda Vargem Grande outside Areias, an extensive and marvellous garden on the site of a former coffee plantation (1979–1990), designed by Burle Marx. Disposed on three levels and animated by a continuous flow of water issuing from a spring higher on the hillside, the garden is incredibly rich in its colours and textures and equally intricate in its selection of plants. Although I had seen almost two dozen Burle Marx gardens on previous visits to Brazil, this stay provided a new understanding and allowed intimate contact with his work. Most areas of his gardens, I learnt, were planted with a single species, each chosen not only for its colour and texture but also for the height of its natural growth. More eye-opening was the fact that not all the plants were indigenous to Brazil; in fact, one of the trees had come from as far away as Madagascar. Burle Marx’s philosophy seems to have been that if the plant would prosper in the Brazilian condition, its use was valid. (Of course, we can assume that none of the plants was regarded as invasive.) Is there a lesson to be learnt from this wonderful project?


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