If we are to believe all that is written, there is much to be said for using a restricted colour palette in the garden. Many try but few succeed and those which do run the risk of being either mimicked to the point of parody (Sissinghurst’s celebrated White Garden) or failing and resulting in an underwhelming blandness. Those gardens that do carry it off, however, are generally planned thoughtfully and executed carefully, with constant meticulous maintenance to ensure no deviation from the original concept. I was fortunate to spend some days in an outstanding example of the genre, Buckingham Place at Rekawa, near Tangalle in southern Sri Lanka.
This modern boutique hotel has been conceived, constructed and planted with enormous care to ensure first of all that it fits seamlessly into its coastal forest surroundings, and secondly that nothing jars visually from within the site. Try as I might, I can only list 5 colours which were used throughout its interiors and exteriors: stone, beige, grey, orange and green. Where these colours appear in the lush vegetation of the forests, the orangey mud of the local lagoon, the unpaved roads and local rock, they also emerge in the renders on plastered surfaces, surfacing of retaining walls and pathways, russet leaves, parasols and cushions and green foliage. The attention to detail is striking – the uprights of the metal railings are painted a russet orange, while the horizontal bars are a silvery grey. Thus no colour distracts the eye and the hotel and its grounds merge subtly into the landscape.
This does not mean that the atmosphere is all samey by any means. Textures come from the way the stones are laid in the paths and walls, the fabrics used for soft furnishings, and primarily from the plants. Trees are carefully pruned so that the ribbed and rugged trunks are kept clear, forming natural sculptures through which the astonishing views are glimpsed. Planting is large scale at the perimeter, and becomes smaller and more textural as one approaches the main hotel building which houses the communal sitting area and restaurant. Efforts have clearly been made to use plants which would be as comfortable in a jungle as they are in a very controlled setting, and thus there are tall and dwarf palms, yuccas, bamboo and a shrub which has russet leaves which turn green as they mature. Nothing is planted merely to flower and the only blossom on show during my stay were from a frangipani tree whose white petals patterned the grass beneath and a plant with the requisite orange-toned blossoms. Even the stem colours are a similar grey. Rhythms come from repeated plantings, rows of the same species and punctuation marks of taller specimens.
In terms of style, the hotel is modern, with clean lines, using polished concrete, lots of large glass windows, dark wood and pays homage to the local architectural hero, Geoffrey Bawa, in the use of tall, recessed doorways and simple rectangular shapes. Comfort comes from cosy fabrics, fine linens, natural materials and paint shades, all within the same restrained colour range. At least until you come to the central seating area where the wicker furniture is upholstered in blue and green stripes, perhaps a reference to the Indian ocean five minutes walk down the hill.
Water is also used within the design with a shallow pool to one side of the central area, populated with small fish and frogs, lushly planted with water lettuce which hold rain drops on their waxy surfaces to catch the light. And of course there is a swimming pool and while its bright blue liner falls outside the colour range, it simply serves to emphasise the elegance and style of the overall design. Accessories in the form of lighting, locally made clay pots and baskets are carefully placed to act as focal points, balance seating areas and walkways.
The final enchanting design element is Ginger, the feral pony, who walked in through the main gate one day and decided to stay. As an ecologically sound lawn mower, she is unbeatable – and she fits in perfectly with the colour scheme….