Cesar Manrique - a holiday surprise

Cesar Manrique - a holiday surprise

Our 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower Show Gold medal winning garden designer, Darren Hawkes, talks about how he stumbled across the work of Cesar Manrique.

Back at the tail end of Easter my wife and I decided to escape with our two girls for a week’s holiday and have some time together where gardens, garden design and the daily conversations about work wouldn’t occupy my time.  We opted for a week in a hotel in the quiet South West of Lanzarote.

After a couple of restful days getting to know the immediate area we headed off around the Island to see what we could find. Little did I realise but we were about to stumble upon the work of Cesar Manrique and have our senses invigorated by his wonderful spaces.  I was aware of Manrique’s geometric sculptures, but much to my shame had no knowledge of the spaces we were about to explore. 

Landscape architects and garden designers are always talking about the greater landscape and having an understanding of the vernacular. Manrique is someone who not only understands but has such an affinity with his Island materials that his ability to shape, manipulate and decorate the landscape borders on genius.  Walls that curve, slide and melt back into the volcanic lava lead the eye gently from one area to another.  Steps built from volcanic rock that have both an uneven sur-face and an irregular rise, fly in the face of modern commercial safety requirements  and instead challenge, forcing us to engage and remind us of the greatest of pleasures….play.

Our first destination was Manrique’s Cactus Garden, a huge elliptical walled garden with many ter-raced sides which are a home to a huge variety of species.  These could quite easily be stand-alone sculptures when you see the myriad of forms.  

Huge ball shaped Parodia sit together in front of giant Saguaro reminiscent of Box balls and fastig-iate Hornbeam with the warm tones and textual complexity of the honeycombed lava walls acting as foil behind.  Birds fly from roosting points on the upper terraces and people mill about with a look of wonder on their faces, transfixed by this oasis in the middle of the lava strewn landscape. Everywhere you look details in steel, stone and timber show a lack of censorship and a freedom of expression rarely enjoyed in the public realm.

If the Cactus garden was an eye-opener then Jameos Del Auga was a mindblower.  This is a space that you discover amid acres and acres of Euphobia obtusifolia and enter through a narrow passageway before opening out into a fern laden, open sided, cave / night club / gar-den/architectural wonder/ James Bond hideout, that made me smile so much I felt I may get jaw ache.  Plants used sparingly in the most specific spots allow them to be seen as art pieces in their own right.  Pools, hanging cages filled with ferns, manmade landscaping merging with natural stone all make for an enchanting experience. 

Being unexpectedly inspired is one of the greatest of treats in life and coming back from a holiday not only having rested but having found a renewed passion for ones work is more than I could have wished for. My clients can therefor expect a renewed commitment to detail and consistency of material but most importantly a reinvigorated sense of fun.