A Garden Is Like A Poem
Roberto Burle Marx


Roberto Burle Marx With His Paintings In The Library Of His Home Sitio Santo Antônio Da Bica, Rio De Janeiro State, 1981

©John Hedgecoe

I want to begin to speak about my childhood. Certainly if I would not have had a mother that was an artist, she was an artist and a very good singer and at the same time she liked so much plants. He influenced me strongly when I saw my mother cutting and pruning the trees and roses, and when they began to grow, this was a big emotion. I was at that period four years old. Then we came to Rio and she brought many of the roses that she had and we lived near the sea. But there was a wall who protected those plants. But her way of treating plants with such enormous love influenced me strongly during my whole life. Then we moved near the sea but we had a big house and a slope that was covered with trees and in that ambiance I began to live in contact with plants. My father, who came from Germany, he understood that I had a different way of feeling than my other brothers and he began to buy the most important reviews about gardens - that was with the age of fourteen years - and I began to organise my collection. It was a little collection but each plant represented for me a new person. And I remember the first alocasia cuprea that I got from an aunt, and I have had such a strong emotion that I couldn't sleep all night. Then in '28 we went to Germany. I lived one and a half years in Berlin. I think it was very important for me because that gave the direction in my whole life. Hearing music and going to theatre and concerts and to the Botanical Garden of Dahlem that was a fantastic botanical garden and I saw the first ecological formations or based on ecology they organised a part of the garden. I was learning because I was seeing. When you see with attention you learn always. I think in many occasions people don't know how to sea, and I think we learn to see. And at that period I was very, very curious. And for me, curiosity is one of the important things in life. I saw at that period a fantastic exhibition of Van Gogh and it was the beginning of my career as a painter. I began as a painter, studying in Berlin, and it was at that period in '29 that I saw in the Galerie Flechtheim the first Picassos, the first Paul Klee, the first Matisse. And I didn't understand, but was very much moved with those paintings. The images that I saw were so important that I never forgot what I saw at that period.


Brazilian Plant

©Roberto Burle Marx

I began to discover our flora that I never saw in the Brazilian gardens. And I asked myself why we don't have those plants, those marvellous plants that I saw in the Botanical Garden of Dahlem. And when I came back in '29, I began to collect. My mother's garden - the garden of my family - she had enormous love for roses and carnations and other plants. But she understood the beauty of the philodendron, of the anthuriums, of many plants that I began to bring into our garden. And after two to three years, the garden was completely different because I was very much thrilled and the Brazilian plants gave me enormous emotion. From that time I began to do excursions bringing all these things that I didn't know. And then, in the Botanical Garden of Rio I learned very much seeing the plants, the size of the trees, that I could then apply to gardens. I went to the Beaux Arts School where I studied three years general courses, and Lúcio Costa who was a Director, he told me it would be very good if I would work towards landscape architecture because nobody was doing this in Brazil. In that sense, I can tell that I was the first who began that career in Brazil, because it was in the hands of principally European firms and gardeners, much more interested in importing European plants or foreign plants as using Brazilian plants. I began to create gardens only in '32. Lúcio Costa was living in our street and once he saw a combination of plants that I did in the garden, he told me I would like very much if you would do a garden for a house I've finished for a client. And I did the first rough drafts and they were not good. But he told me they are very good, and I began like that. In my life I was very lucky that I began in Rio to create a garden for the Education Ministry, and the rough drafts were made by Le Corbusier. Certainly the development was very much based on Lúcio Costa guidance and the other architects that made the part of that group - like Carlos Leon, Oscar Niemeyer, Eduardo Affonso Reidy, and at that period Le Corbusier came to Brazil and I learned very much hearing his way of thinking because he had such a poetical way of expressing himself. And I was hearing like somebody hears a music or a marvellous poem. I was learning from his knowledge. Because we inherit from other people that did architecture that we are dealing with art, we learn always when we are speaking together. Because we speak the same language.

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