I’ve been scanning this book by Barbara Baker since December and haven’t come near to finishing it. There are two reasons to stop reading a book; either because you find it uninteresting or because you find it too interesting. Too stimulating. Special in the sense that it must be saved up for just the right moment to absorb in unmolested and concentrated appreciation. Since those are rare moments, it’s no surprise that I’m surrounded by piles of half-read books saved up as a future treat, like this one. Ms. Baker’s book opens with a portrait of Patrick Blanc, who I knew next to nothing about other than he is French, has green hair, and pretty much pioneered vertical gardens, those soil-less, engineering marvels that conceal their artificial, life-sustaining infrastructure behind a seductive tapestry of plants. With my laissez-faire approach to gardens, it’s not something I’ve been tempted to try at home, and if it wasn’t for Ms. Baker’s excellent book I would have missed out on knowing more about this botanist provacateur’s goal to take plants out of the “garden” proper and grow them where we really live, work, and play. This quote from his partner Pascal goes a long way toward filling in a portrait of this enigmatic artist:
“Yet Patrick likes jungles and cities, but not gardens! His argument is this: ‘If you live in a city, you have to decide to take time, or lose time, in order to go into a garden. When you have a vertical garden, you make no decision; it is on your way, on the pavement or by the subway. It is more similar to walking in mountains or jungle and being presented with plants clinging to a cliff by a waterfall, and it is spectacular. In a horizontal garden, the guy who makes it decides where you go. He decides the paths, and where you have to sit. A vertical garden is more like a picture where it is your own eye which decides whether you are more interested in a triangular leaf or a frond.”
Blanc’s three abiding passions have been water, fish, and plants. For a man who clearly tolerates as little separation as possible from the natural world, an aquarium must be the “floor” to his office. Photo found here.
Work by Blanc for friends in Paris.
“The 20-by-23-foot interior wall is a canvas of the living with some 150 tropical, low-light species assembled in harmony. It begins as a field of texture near the ground, then runs through violet and amber arcs of flowers and other ruddy blooms, broadening out near the ceiling into trees that overhang the room like a sheltering forest.” – from Dwell
I’d never thought of vertical gardens before as an impulse to deconstruct gardens as separate and discrete places we visit, enter, leave behind, then long to enter again. That’s so 20th century. Blanc craves an immediate, immersive experience beyond such spacial constraints and temporal boundaries. More than the vertical gardens themselves, which are tricky to build and maintain, it is Blanc’s insistence that plants become integrated into the dailiness of our lives that I find so inspiring. In such ecologically challenging times, why not deploy them everywhere we can, even on buildings and walls, like urgent messages in foliar graffiti? Why not aid and abet their escape from gardens and let them loose to curtain the streets and alleys of our cities, where they’re needed most?
Other artists profiled in the book include familiar names like Fernando Caruncho, Isabelle Greene, Dan Pearson, Tom Stuart-Smith, but it’s also been a source of introduction to many previously unknown to me. And for a garden book, it has a refreshing reliance on in-depth interviews and text as well as excellent photos.