Living and Loving in a Balinese Garden

As some parts of Bali become more urban, the importance of enclosed green spaces and lush tropical gardens becomes paramount. Finding accommodation within a well established, older garden is one of my priorities when staying here. There are many well tended gardens around Sanur, a beach suburb of Denpasar: some are grand in size, others small but inviting. They are usually found in the grounds of older and more traditional Balinese hotels. Gardens are tended daily: the role of the local gardener is one of utmost importance. They are up at first light, sweeping paths and removing fallen leaves. I rise with them, and gather the fallen frangipani blossom ( Jepun in Balinese) before they are swept up. Each day a new fall brings a different coloured blossom, some deep yellow tinted with maroon and pink, others creamy white, or pure yellow.

Later the gardeners prune and shape fecund vines, removing spent branches from palms, separating some for new plantings, or trimming unruly hedges. They work silently, usually with simple hand tools, clippers, scythes and knives. Tropical growth demands constant attention. I’ve always been keen to copy some¬†of these elements in my garden in Australia, a harsh environment cursed by wind and fierce heat in summer and frost in winter. The key element I would like to emulate is infrastructure. Walls feature often throughout Balinese gardens, along with doorways, small pavilions, pathways, and statues. Plain brick or concrete walls provide protection from the wind, shade and a structure for climbing plants. An ugly wall is soon softened with foreground planting and climbers.

Other elements of a Balinese Garden are worth noting. Small spaces, even in a terraced back yard or balcony, can be turned Balinese through selecting some of the elements that suit your space.

  • Gates. Decorative gateways are common features. They provide a focal point leading the eye to a feature in the distance. Various styles of gates are used, but the most evocative are intricately carved. They make perfect supports for climbers such as Bougainvillea and other climbers.
  • Paths. Often different paving materials are combined to create decorative effects. Note that things are not perfectly symmetrical or edged too thoroughly. A little randomness is part of the Balinese appeal. A formal garden is often followed by a very natural and organic corner.
  • Statues .¬†Statues of people, animals, religious and mythical figures are common in gardens. They are always raised, never placed at ground level. As they age, they they blend in with the surrounding planting and can be appreciated when passing by.¬† Balinese statues are often carved out of stone and can be seen in the thousand in the carving villages along the main road from Denpasar to Ubud. The tropical environment in Bali antiques walls, statues and pots rather quickly. A garden can look established in no time at all.

  • Water. Ponds and fountains are common in Balinese gardens, a place to grow¬†lotus and other water leafy plants.

Pavilions. Roofed and open sided with a raised floor, a shady pavilion is an inviting spot for an afternoon read or a place to reflect.

Plants. The indigenous plants of Bali have been mixed with introduced species for over 1,000 years. Palms, tropical fruits and  large Banyan trees give shade and height while lower growing plants including Ginger and Hibiscus provide colour. Plants are often grown in decorative containers to create features, especially different coloured Bougainvillea which are kept well pruned. The aim is to create height and layers of growth, as well as open grassy areas for contrast.

For Peter D, tropical gardener in Far North Queensland, who could name all of these plants, and Helen and Rosalie, who also love a good traditional garden space in Bali. And also for my wall building son, Jack, who might have some time to add some garden infrastructure on his return from Bali. Ohm.

Nangka or Jackfruit, carefully tended in a nearby garden.