by Lucy Feagins
Patrick Blanc’s vertical garden at Melbourne Central, installed last Thursday (July 17th) as part of the Melbourne International Design Festival
Patrick Blanc charmed a capacity crowd at BMW Edge last Friday evening, giving a detailed lecture about his famous vertical gardens as part of the International Design Festival. His lilting French accent and endearing pronounciations of English words (‘monthses’ = months), only added to the highly entertaining lecture… and while it did go on too long for some (around 2 hours), I was completely taken with the charming, eccentric Mr. Blanc.
Blanc attributed the enormous popularity of his work to the fact that more than half the world’s population now live in densely populated cities, and have less and less contact with nature than ever before. vertical gardens bring the natural world into the urban environment, and it seems everyone wants a piece of the action. Patrick Blanc has created his amazing installations all over the world – from hotels in st Tropez and the Qantas first class lounges (installations for ‘happy few people’ Blanc said, referring jokingly to the elite few who frequent such places), to the French Embassy in Delhi, art galleries in Japan, and even a collaboration with fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier. ‘This work is funny…’ Blanc said, showing an image of a fashion model wearing a botanical creation – ‘the guy is not so funny’ – referring to Mr Gaultier!
Mr Blanc was quick to (tactfully) dismiss misconceptions about his work. ‘I don’t like (ordinary) gardens at all’ he said! He made it clear he’s not a landscape architect or a gardener… and certainly not a designer (although he acknowledges the great interest in his work from the contemporary art and design worlds). He explained that first and foremost he’s a botanist, and he approaches his work from a scientific perspective rather than an aesthetic one. He explained the architectural arrangement of his installations – designed to allow each plant to catch the maximum amount of light (taking into account shade tolerance, leaf shape and arrangement etc). He doesn’t see himself as a designer ; ‘the artistic work is not my work’ he says, ‘this is the work of nature… nature organises itself perfectly’.
We learnt that a vertical garden, once installed, requires minimal upkeep, and is more self sufficient than a normal, ‘horizontal’ garden. There is no loss of water – all water drained at the bottom of the watering system is re-used, and no soil means no percolation, therefore no wastage. Where his gardens are placed in large interior spaces (such as his installation at Melbourne Central), water is recycled from the air conditioning system of the building to water the plants.
It’s clear that the secret to Mr Blanc’s success is the sheer passion he has for his work, and for the study of plants. He described visiting Singapore three days prior to his Melbourne visit, and discovering a new plant species while he was there. His excitement at this recent discovery was self-evident! ‘Just because lots of people go in a place, doesn’t mean there is nothing new to observe’ he said… ‘there’s always something new to observe in nature’.
Patrick Blanc didn’t get through all the images he had planned to show during his lecture, so below are the additional photos, including shots of some of his most recent works.