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Gardenlust: Made Wijaya’s Gardens in Bali, Indonesia

by Timber Press on September 25, 2018

in Design, Gardening

Combining architecture, both religious and secular, with artistically designed arrangements of tropical plants, Made Wijaya’s work both expanded the possibilities of the island’s garden design traditions and exported them to the world.

Made Wijaya • Various • 1979–2015

Made Wijaya designed over 600 gardens around the world—including in Singapore, India, Australia, Spain, Mexico, Morocco, and the United States. Some were for the rich and famous, many were for luxury hotels, and some were for private residences tucked away on his lush, adopted home island. His life was full of personal and creative adventure. Born Michael White in Sydney, Australia, he sailed to Bali in 1973, but jumped ship in a storm and swam the last distance to shore.

He became a tennis coach, writer of guidebooks, an expert on ritual dancing, an actor in the satirical play “Eat Pay Leave,” an acerbic and witty newspaper columnist, and an embodiment of the island’s flamboyance. Adopted by a Brahman family, he was named Made, meaning “second son,” in a Hindu ritual. He started designing gardens in 1979 and continued until illness cut short his earthly life in September 2016.

His work is his memorial. He used his outstanding knowledge of Balinese culture and ritual to inform and constantly refine his vision for tropical gardens. Bali was his inspiration, and its architecture and landscape, derived from pre-Hindu and Hindu sources, particularly the island’s red-brick Majapahit Empire temples, inhabited and defined his gardens. Traditional Balinese domestic architecture often reflects the spatial arrangement depicted on the Surya Majapahit emblem, a star with eight cardinal directions—each guarded by one deity—and Shiva, one of the principal gods of Hinduism, at the center.

Homes comprise a series of pavilions made of teak beams and floors, bamboo rafters, and roofs thatched with nipa palm (Nypa fruticans). Tall drum towers (bale kulkul) with thatched roofs are placed at the entrance to the pavilions. All radiate in axial relationship from a central communal space. It is this communal space—so different from the Western mode of separate and private living—that distinguishes itself in Wijaya’s designs. Within the elaborate set of Balinese spatial rules, plants can both frame and become the architecture.

In his work, Wijaya frequently creates ponds, pools, and water pots filled with water lilies and lotus, and surrounds them with the graceful teardrops of tropical maidenhair fern, Adiantum raddianum. The quiet of water, often in rectangular pools, is a counter-balance to rambunctious tropical flora.

His last big work in Bali, the Alaya Resort in Ubud, was completed in 2016. It is very different from his other gardens. It is understated, simple, and full of power. Bali is famous for the beauty of its rice paddies. Terrace upon terrace of sweet green. Wijaya designed a series of rice fields as the entrance to the restaurant. The rectangles of rice, bisected by a sharp-angled boardwalk and hung with wasp-like lamps, lead to a restaurant pavilion he also decorated, and then down to a pool and hotel complex. The rice continues, surrounding the pool but with the added touch of large, white-blooming frangipani. Green and white—so clever. This last garden illustrates Wijaya’s ability to create mood in an extraordinary range of environments and temperaments.

Wijaya is remembered for his skill, his intelligence, and his embrace of life in all its color. He was a beauty warrior. He was cremated in Australia and his ashes transported to his beloved island for a Hindu purification and renewal ceremony known as prelina. The ceremony is a ritual meant to detach the five elements of life so that the spirit, atman, will find its way to heaven free from worldly life. May it be so.


Christopher Woods began his gardening life at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. He was director and chief designer of Chanticleer, and he has served as vice president for horticulture at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden; director of the Van Dusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, Canada; executive director of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden; and director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Meadowbrook Farm.


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