Name of project: Chiloé Garden
Garden surface: 2.4 ha
Construction year: 2001
Location: Ahui, Chiloé, Chile
Architect of house: Mathias Klotz
Of all the gardens I have designed in my life, this one had the most genuine conception. Its sole purpose was to restore the original values to a piece of land that previous generations had partially cleared for agricultural purposes. By original values, I refer to the diversity and exuberance that characterize the coastal landscape of the Large Island of Chiloé.
Before I received this commission, the owners had hired other professionals to recover the land. They planted various species, including ornamental trees from outside, varieties of conifers, and even fruit trees. Their efforts were unsuccessful, largely because the trees, bought in nurseries, could not withstand the strong winds and salty environment of the place. For us the challenge was to make a garden that would flourish at the 41st parallel south, in a harsh climate facing the Pacific Ocean.
From my point of view, the practice of our job teaches us to go along with nature in what we do, and to recognize its processes so that we can intervene and obtain optimal results. This experience was a valuable lesson, forever useful.
Noting that there were native plants a few centimeters high germinating among the tall grasses, we decided to experiment and allow the wild grasses on the edges of our working area to grow, rather than cutting g them back. The idea was that if they were sheltered by the grasses, the native species would emerge, growing from the seeds that the wind carried from reserves located in nearby ravines. The challenge was to create a suitable on-site habitat to achieve a natural repopulation with native species. We were clear from the start that this project would only show results in the long term.
Without using plans or drawings, the design of the site involved a central meadow of trimmed grasses whose edges were shaped into curves inspired by the existing vegetation, cliffs and surrounding beaches. First, we considered the topography and shapes of some hills surrounding the field at its edges and then we tried to have them climb up to the meadow by creating waves that advanced from the edge and closed towards the center. The grasses in this strip were left untrimmed. During the first five years trees and shrubs appeared that germinated naturally because of the soil’s fertility and the two thousand millimeters of rain that fall annually in the area.
Once the spontaneously growing plants were established and had reached about 70 cm in height we began to incorporate new ones of the same native species to increase the population, now of course grown in nurseries. The former gave protection to the latter. Only then could I begin to manage the design, that is, organize the heights of the vegetation from the smallest to the tallest, allowing perspectives, views, and twists.
Over time, the plants grew, providing shelter for one another and protection against the windy and brackish climate. Maintenance involved only cutting back the grass of the central meadow, no irrigation, no other pruning of trees or shrubs, and no disinfection. The result was a lush natural Chiloé garden. The predominant species are chilcos (fuchsia magallanica) and Arrayanes (Chilean myrtle), which were the first to thrive. They were followed by the escalonias (escallonia rubra), the chupones (Greigia sphacelata), the berberis (barberry) the ulmos (Eucryphia cordifolia), and the canelos (winter’s bark).
After the success achieved years later with the growth of the plants, we could appreciate how the garden had been created, a place that hid what had to be hidden and opened perspectives on what was truly interesting. At that moment, we proposed to the owner to continue trimming the grass until the site returned to its natural jungle state. I remember very well his answer: “NO, because then I’d be left without a garden”.