This weekend, wandering with a good friend through the spectacular maze of foliage-filled hallways that are the greenhouses of the University of Cambridge Botanical Garden, we began to talk about a perpetual hypothetical conundrum that belongs to me. If any of us – as tropical plant nuts – had unlimited funds, would we rather have a huge greenhouse in which to live out our horticultural fantasies or would it make sense to have a garden in the tropics?
As someone obsessed from childhood with the mysterious storybook atmosphere that rainforest species are particularly capable of creating, my response to this one has always come as a surprise, even to myself. Despite all the limitations of greenhouses, from the dramatic limitation in the number and size of plants you can grow, to the limited range of features you can create indoors, I think I would still settle for a greenhouse. . This is because, for me, part of the magic of tropical plants lies precisely in their rarity and exotic nature.
When you step through the door of a gray, lifeless British winter and are instantly struck by a wall of humidity and the warm earthy scent of the rainforest floor, it turns that door into a portal to another world. . It is this contrast that dramatizes the wonder of greenhouses. Seeing plants crammed into spaces smaller than what suits them also creates another contrast between the straight, still lines of man-made buildings and the chaotic, wild wonder of nature which, for me, reinforces that sense of d exploration, as life invades a space.
Maybe that’s because my obsession with the tropics didn’t start, as you would expect, in the Singapore rainforests where I grew up, but on a trip to Kew Gardens in London. when I was a child. The same plants that I thought of as polished horticultural “parking lot” plantings looked utterly unrecognizable pressed against steaming glass or arched dramatically into tunnel-shaped paths. It seems I’m not the only one with this feeling: even famous designers such as Brazilian Roberto Burle Marx, who revolutionized the world of tropical garden design in the mid-20th century, wrote that his wonder of the tropics was only triggered when he visited greenhouses in Germany. As a student. The native Amazon plants, those he took for granted as roadside weeds, suddenly became the focus of his designs, leaping to the forefront of a new school of town planning and changing the way half of the world’s gardens.
I wonder, basically, if this is gardening – trying to create an idealized escape from the rest of the world. We often speak of gardens as “natural”; however, they are anything but. These are stylized and dramatic backdrops of what we think nature “should” look like, almost all of them are only possible through enormous amounts of human dedication and creativity to force her to fit our fantasies. And of all the horticultural styles, this one undoubtedly reaches its peak in greenhouses. So when I win the lottery, I think it’s a Bond villain-like greenhouse for me, and the odd good companion to walk around with.
Follow Jacques on Twitter @Botanygeek