South America: Brazil, Argentina and Chile Around the World in 80 Gardens


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South America: Brazil, Argentina and Chile

Monty Don visits the world's 80 best gardens. He visits South America, a continent twice the size of Europe with 50,000 endemic plants.


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I believe a really good way to understand a culture is through it's gardens.

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This is an extraordinary journey to visit 80 inspiring gardens from all over the world.

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Some are very well known like the Taj Mahal or the Alhambra.

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And I'm also challenging my idea of what a garden actually is.

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So I'm visiting gardens that float on the Amazon, a strange fantasy in the jungle.

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As well as the private homes of great designers,

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and the desert flowering in a garden...

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and wherever I go I shall be meeting people that share my own passion for gardens

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on my epic quest to see the world through 80 of it's most fascinating and beautiful gardens.

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This week, my travels have brought me to the continent

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with the most diverse climate and range of landscapes on this planet,

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and which is home to more than 50,000 species of plants only found here.

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This is a land almost twice the size of Europe.

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South America.

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One of the ways of trying to get beneath the skin

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of this vast continent

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is to work out what people's concept of a garden actually is.

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And I also want to find out what it is that drives people to make gardens at all,

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when their natural landscape is as beautiful and dramatic as this.

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I'm starting the first leg of my journey in Rio de Janeiro,

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to see the private garden of Brazil's greatest artist,

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before travelling by boat to the floating gardens of the Amazon.

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Heading back south, I'll go to Argentina

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to visit a traditional 'estancia' in the Pampas,

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before finally ending my journey on the Pacific coast of Chile

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where one man has created a garden completely in tune with the landscape.

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So, I arrive for the first time in one of the world's great cities,

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Rio de Janeiro.

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Now, the Brazilian climate varies from hot and arid in the interior

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to hot and sticky in the tropical rainforest of the Amazon jungle.

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So I had expected, for my first visit to Brazil,

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not just all the conventional features of Rio to be there,

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colour, bronzed bodies, dancing, that kind of thing,

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but above all lots of sunshine. After all, it is supposed to be summer.

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Every image of Copacabana beach is of beautiful bodies, sunshine,

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packed beaches...

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Well, this is Copacabana beach, and I've got rain.

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And not a soul...

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Not a thong in sight!

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But the reason I'm on the beach in this terrible weather

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is to visit my first garden, the famous Copacabana promenade,

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designed by Roberto Burle Marx in 1970.

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Burle Marx was Brazil's most eminent landscape architect and artist,

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and he radically combined his paintings with the landscape of Rio's pavements and parks.

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He took the lines and the swirls

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that were so familiar from his paintings and his other artwork,

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and applied them to the surface of the Copacabana.

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That went on...

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..and on....

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..and on...

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..and on.

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The scale is simply enormous

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and amounts to a two and a half mile long abstract painting.

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There can be few gardens best seen from the 27th floor of a hotel.

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What we're looking at is one of the largest public gardens in the world.

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And in my opinion, a garden it surely is,

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as clearly municipal and as public as bedding on a roundabout.

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It's not just Copacabana's promenade

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that's suffused with Burle Marx's brilliant creativity.

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From the late 1930s until his death in 1994

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he added much to the quality of Rio's life

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by designing many radical, elegant and invariably stimulating public spaces in the city.

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These fabulous abstract spaces are not the only reason why Burle Marx

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is one of the most important garden designers in South America.

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He also personally revolutionised gardening in Brazil.

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And to see how, I am heading now 40 miles out of the city

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to visit his own private garden.

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Burle Marx loved Brazil's native plants.

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In 1949 he bought this 90-acre estate

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to experiment with what was then a revolutionary idea -

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the introduction of some of Brazil's indigenous plants to its parks and gardens.

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The garden, known today as the Sitio,

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became his life-long passion.

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Have a look at this...

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non stick!

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Although Burle Marx was obsessive

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about championing plants local to Brazil

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this garden has many species from all over the world,

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and he was very clear about the role of a garden.

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It was nature designed and controlled by man for man;

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and in other words a wholly artificial space,

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and this is no exception.

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In his garden as in every part of his life,

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Burle Marx was a compulsive designer and collector,

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and everything he did at the Sitio,

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from planting to entertaining, was on an heroic scale.

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This area which was designed by Burle Marx specifically for parties

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is big but it's recognisably domestic.

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And this pergola which he created to house the jade vine he was given,

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it's very big and very eccentric to do such a grand gesture just for one plant.

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But then you just go a few more steps

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and you come through here and suddenly all the rules are changed.

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I'm in completely different territory

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and I don't see this as a gardener or horticulturist,

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but almost like a child at the edge of a forest,

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because this isn't the experience of a garden,

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it's the landscape of a dream.

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And although it seems extraordinary now,

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Burle Marx's dream to protect and celebrate Brazil's tropical plant life

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was actually considered more revolutionary in its day

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than his abstract painting or landscape design.

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At the age of 19 Burle Marx went to Europe to study art for a year

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and he left behind him a Brazil whose gardens faced Europe.

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They were heavily influenced by them,

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formal, Victorian and bearing no recognition

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of the extraordinary plant life of the South American continent.

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Whilst he was in Berlin, Marx visited Dahlem Botanic Gardens

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and was stunned to find Brazilian plant species

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growing as curiosities in the glasshouses there.

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He suddenly thought this is mad,

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"Why am I looking at these plants here

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"when we should be growing them in our gardens back home?"

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It was really from that point that he began this process of designing modern gardens

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using the plants that were on his doorstep,

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on the South American continent,

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and above all that were Brazilian in every way.

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Burle Marx became obsessed

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with collecting and protecting these native plants,

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and the Sitio contains more than 3,000 species of tropical flora

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that he collected during his plant expeditions.

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Robeiro Diaz, the director of the Sitio, used to accompany him on his expeditions.

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In one of those excursions we went to Bahia and when we came back

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he said, "Everyone goes to the Sitio with me now!"

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So we came, he called the gardeners,

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and the truck that was filled with plants...

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And then "These there! Those there!

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"And there and there...

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And he composed

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the garden with those plants.

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So as soon as he found them in the wild,

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he wanted to immediately use them and create with them.

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Yes, he had to experiment with plants because when you pick up plants

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and nature, unknown, it comes not with a manual of how to plant it.

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He had to plant it to see how it would behave.

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There are more different species of bromeliad in Brazil

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than anywhere else on earth.

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And other than a pineapple we tend to come across bromeliads

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as house plants or something in a conservatory.

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Whereas here of course they grow anywhere and everywhere,

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and they are extraordinary things.

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Because their roots don't take in any nutrition at all...

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they simply attach the plant to whatever surface it's growing on.

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And all of them collect water at the base of their leaves...

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what amounts to a tiny lake...

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with its own complete ecosystem inside it.

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You'll have frogs and insects

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that never leave that individual bromeliad.

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Their whole life is spent within it.

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And that miracle... to come down into a garden

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and be used with all this exuberanceand colour and life!

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It's fantastic!

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I love the relationship here between small details

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and the big block planting that Burle Marx is famous for.

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He was well known for saying if you wanted people to appreciate a plant

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it was no good just planting one of them.

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In order to see it properly, they had to have lots of them.

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I love the textures.

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The way textures on the trunk of a tree will match.

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Or the colours of the water will pick up the colours of the leaves.

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And it's those tiny details expanded out by the vigour of the planting here in Brazil,

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together with the vigour of his imagination

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that is one of the things that makes this place so extraordinary.

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Burle Marx bequeathed the Sitio to the people of Brazil

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as part of the Burle Marx Foundation,

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and although he designed over 2,000 gardens,

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this is, I think, where his genius is best displayed.

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But now I am leaving here to follow in the footsteps of the great man

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and head north into the rainforest.

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My first visit to the Amazon basin exceeds any previous experience.

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All its statistics are superlatives.

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It produces 20% of the planet's oxygen

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and also contains more than 20% of the world's fresh water.

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Its 1.5 million square miles contains a third of the world's total rainforest

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and with an estimated 50,000 species of endemic plants

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it makes Brazil the most bio-diverse country on earth.

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I arrive in the middle of the dry season and it's unbelievably hot.

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But any romantic notions I may have harboured

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about my arrival in the remote Amazon,

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quickly evaporate as I find myself in a large noisy, commercial city

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right in the heart of the jungle.

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This is Manaus, the capital of the Amazonas.

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On the banks of the Rio Negro,

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and it is one of the gateways to the whole Amazon region.

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And it started life as a rubber trading port.

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The rubber came in from the jungle and the city that grew up

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around that trade was elegant and had real colonial charm.

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The Opera House, built in 1879 by Joseph Eiffel, of Eiffel tower fame,

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attests to the wealth brought by the rubber trade, now long gone.

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Yet still, forest people are drawn here by the hope of work.

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Today the population of Manaus is more than 1.5 million;

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that's bigger than any British city outside London.

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But the lure for the modern visitor

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is the same as for the original 18th century rubber traders.

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And that is what is out there,

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which is the richest selection of plant life on this planet.

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I'm looking for the Cassiquiari.

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I don't know if that's how you pronounce it, but it's one of these boats.

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I hope it's a nice one.

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There are at a rough estimate at least 50 or 60 such boats.

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Cassiquiari.

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That's her.

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Very charming. Hello.

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Hello, I'm Monty, nice to meet you, can I come on?

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Welcome aboard.

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Thank you very much indeed. Thank you.

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We leave the city and moor out in the river

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as the light drops quickly away into the darkness of the steamy tropical night.

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It'll be morning before I see my first unfettered views of the mighty Amazon.

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As day breaks, the river reveals itself in all it's glory.

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It is unimaginably huge.

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The river system has 11,000 tributaries,

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of which 17 are more than 1,000 miles long.

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Before I could set off for the day

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there was an unexpected problem to deal with.

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Now we had a slight mishap on my way here,

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because at Sao Paolo I picked up the wrong suitcase, identical to mine.

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And when we got on the boat and opened it out,

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instead of seeing all my gear, my clothes, my washing kit and all the rest of it,

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there was a large collection of saris and sequin-encrusted jerseys.

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And there's obviously some poor woman, desperate for her clothes.

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It left me with a problem because I was about to go down the Amazon.

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All I had was the suit I travelled in and nothing else at all.

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Luckily I managed to borrow these clothes.

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SPEAKS PORTUGUESE

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I don't speak Portuguese but I guess she's probably saying that

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it looks very nice but a nice pink sari would've been more fetching!

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OK. Are we ready?

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Managing to resist the lure of a pink sari,

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I'm off to explore the Amazon.

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With over a fifth of the world's plant species thought to be growing here,

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I wondered if people who live here need to garden?

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My guide Ivano assures me they do,

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so he takes me to meet a river community.

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Ah, look... look at the dogs.

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The water levels in the Amazon can rise and fall by as much as 30 feet according to the season,

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so all these houses float on the river to accommodate the changing levels.

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This is the last place I would expect to find a garden

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but then, astonishingly,

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one floats by.

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The floating house

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is very nice to live because when I was born my parents live in a floating house.

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You were born in a floating house.

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Yes, I was born in a floating house.

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There's budgerigars! Ah!

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You can see now that this house with a garden...

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Balanced on these vast logs, these trees,

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and then boxes and containers stretched across them.

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Most of the plants are medicinal plants.

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And some vegetables that they can eat.

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There are onions... in an old boat!

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Fantastic!

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It's much easier to get around on the river

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than trekking through the jungle,

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so the houses are floating on the river too.

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But with the massive change in level,

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these floating houses move quite large distances.

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Wherever a house goes, the garden must follow.

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Those trees there. Are they floating too?

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Yeah, they are very interesting these gardens

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because it's incredible how the gardens can support a tree like that.

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Like coconuts trees and lemon and cashew nuts.

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-So these big trees are growing in what we would call containers floating on the water.

-Yeah.

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We drop by the local shop,

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where the owner grows fruit trees aboard their floating garden.

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-E Monty, Dona Sebastiana.

-How do you do?

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This is beautiful, look her house.

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-It's a beautiful house.

-Very typical. Look at the kitchen. Very nice kitchen.

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Out the back is Sebastiana's garden.

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Amazingly, it is an orchard of really quite large trees

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bobbing about on a pontoon chained to the house.

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This is fantastic...

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these are big plants, aren't they?

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How much soil has she put into the containers?

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She use a bag like these and she use like 30 for to get the soil.

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30. So the roots don't go down in to the water?

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No they stay on the soil.

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And you water it from the river? She'll splash it off in.

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Yes, she's going to show us how she waters from the river.

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Right.

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Does she have to water all her pots every day?

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-Yes, twice every day.

-Twice a day.

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-Presumably in the rainy season she doesn't have to do that?

-No, no.

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Tell me what she has here...

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Verbena, carambola, cashew, banana.

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All growing in little boxes floating on the river is an amazing thing.

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It's an amazing thing.

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She loves plants and she cannot plant in the land because of the flood jungle.

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So if she wants to have some trees by side of the house it has to be like that.

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People who garden on the river have fewer constraints than you might imagine

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and can grow nearly as much as anyone on dry land, including vegetables.

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Combined with fresh fish from the river it seemed

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to make for a superbly healthy diet and very attractive lifestyle.

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But I met one householder preparing to sell up and move to the city.

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Now she's going to move to Manaus will she still have a garden?

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She's going to take it.

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Only the house is for selling. Not the garden.

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-Which is her favourite plant?

-The rose.

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Cos it's like a queen in the garden.

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It's like a queen in the garden. That's a very beautiful thought.

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Flowers are actually a rare sight in the Amazon

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because there isn't one distinct flowering season and flowering plants bloom unpredictably,

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and usually out of sight at the top of tree canopies where there's light.

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So in these floating gardens, any bright showy flower is always very popular.

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So what do we have round here?

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-She has plants, piggies.

-Piggies!

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I love piggies. 6 pigs, floating.

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Fantastic.

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I too keep pigs and love growing vegetables.

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So whilst I like roses, I love her pigs and I admire her vegetables.

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Obrigada!

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The sun is about to drop and when it does go it just falls out of the sky.

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You're left in pitch blackness.

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And the main thing today, other than the vastness of this place

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and the unimaginable scale of everything, including the heat,

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is that the desire to garden seems to be a completely basic thing.

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It doesn't matter if you're on the middle of one of the biggest rivers on this planet.

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Still people are making gardens in old canoes and boxes of wood,

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with soil they've had to hump from different parts of the land

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and get into a canoe and row it over and empty it out.

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And still that urge to grow things,

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in the most unlikely of situations, seems to be a basic instinct.

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The next morning I set off to go into the jungle.

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We all now know that this habitat is highly threatened,

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but I'm still hoping to find some of the plants

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Burle Marx fought so hard to conserve in his Sitio garden near Rio.

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Before you come to the rainforest you're hit over the head with statistics.

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But there is one that is really striking,

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and that is that one hectare of virgin rainforest in the Amazon

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has more species of trees than the whole of North America.

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It's remarkably easy to get lost in the jungle,

0:24:270:24:29

even on a modest little jaunt like this,

0:24:290:24:32

so I've enlisted the help of Mo,

0:24:320:24:34

a local guide who's lived in the Amazon jungle all his life.

0:24:340:24:37

Mo explained to me the reason for the extraordinary flaring buttresses

0:24:370:24:42

of many of the jungle trees.

0:24:420:24:44

The land here is so poor that this tree doesn't have a deep root,

0:24:460:24:52

so it needs this support, the system of roots to support the tree.

0:24:520:24:58

OK, you have very, very shallow soil,

0:24:580:25:01

but how does these enormous trees and this mass of life sustain its fertility,

0:25:010:25:08

because it must be making great demands in nutrition and in water.

0:25:080:25:12

-Water we have enough.

-Right.

0:25:120:25:15

They live from what the other trees leave.

0:25:150:25:18

What they have is a big exchange of nutrients.

0:25:180:25:25

What one lose, the others get.

0:25:250:25:28

In the intense heat and humidity of the tropical rainforest,

0:25:290:25:33

specially-adapted fungi and bacteria

0:25:330:25:35

rapidly break down fallen leaves and wood.

0:25:350:25:39

This releases nutrients which are immediately taken back up by the plants.

0:25:390:25:45

This process almost completely by-passes the soil,

0:25:450:25:47

leaving it almost devoid of organic matter,

0:25:470:25:51

shallow and with hardly any nutrients.

0:25:510:25:53

You have the roots right on the surface

0:25:530:25:58

and a very very thin layer of soil.

0:25:580:26:00

So the whole of this vast forest with these enormous trees

0:26:000:26:06

is supported like in a tray.

0:26:060:26:10

What's this?

0:26:120:26:13

Oh! This is a brazil nut fruit,

0:26:130:26:15

if you open it up there are like 20 nuts inside.

0:26:150:26:18

Really? Let me have a look at that.

0:26:180:26:20

Yes. Try to cut it.

0:26:200:26:23

So you just, just...

0:26:230:26:24

Put in the ground. It's very hard.

0:26:240:26:26

-Is it?

-Yeah.

0:26:260:26:28

Now you can see the nuts in there.

0:26:360:26:38

So inside this very, very hard shell

0:26:380:26:40

are a series of nuts with very, very hard shells.

0:26:400:26:44

Is there an animal that breaks through that?

0:26:440:26:46

Yeah, a very interesting point. There is a little hole here.

0:26:460:26:49

What happened we have an agouti, like a little kangaroo

0:26:490:26:54

with big backside and small hands but very sharp teeth,

0:26:540:26:57

that come and eats two or three of those seeds and then buries the rest.

0:26:570:27:03

He intends to return, but the animal has a very poor memory.

0:27:030:27:07

So for this reason grows the Brazil nut.

0:27:070:27:09

Without the help of the agouti they cannot grow.

0:27:090:27:12

Countless species in the rainforest are dependent upon this sort of complex, symbiotic relationship.

0:27:140:27:20

But, over a quarter of a million square miles of this delicate ecosystem

0:27:200:27:27

have been ruthlessly cleared in the past 40 years alone,

0:27:270:27:31

which has accelerated a process that began with the first European settlers in the 15th century.

0:27:310:27:36

They were convinced the obvious lushness of the rainforest was due to rich soils.

0:27:370:27:41

As indeed it would have been in the temperate forests of Europe.

0:27:410:27:45

So, they cut and burned vast tracts of forest in an attempt to create farmland.

0:27:450:27:52

However, this cleared land only supports crops for a few years.

0:27:520:27:57

Once the trees are gone, the soil has no protection from the equatorial rains,

0:27:570:28:01

which quickly wash away the ash and the few remaining nutrients

0:28:010:28:05

and the blazing sun desiccates the essential bacteria and fungi.

0:28:050:28:09

It is an ecological disaster.

0:28:090:28:11

This is now clearly understood,

0:28:150:28:18

but nevertheless still continues to happen.

0:28:180:28:21

Exhausted land is quickly abandoned and virgin rainforest once again

0:28:210:28:25

sacrificed at the altar of ignorant greed.

0:28:250:28:29

However, a new discovery offers an ember of hope

0:28:290:28:33

that could revolutionise the way the rainforest is farmed in the future,

0:28:330:28:37

working with the forest to create sustainable fertility.

0:28:370:28:40

Recent science has shown a very, very small percentage of Amazonia,

0:28:400:28:47

about 0.2%, but which still amounts to 50,000 sq km,

0:28:470:28:52

is composed of pockets of very rich black soil.

0:28:520:28:58

How on earth did that get there?

0:28:580:29:00

This deep, black soil, known as 'terra preta', is extremely fertile

0:29:030:29:08

and, because it contains pottery shards and organic matter dating back to prehistoric times,

0:29:080:29:13

scientists believe it is man-made,

0:29:130:29:15

built up artificially over thousands of years.

0:29:150:29:18

And the key to its fertility lies in the charcoal,

0:29:180:29:22

which can retain nutrients.

0:29:220:29:24

These then remain stable in the soil and don't leach away.

0:29:240:29:28

The furious heat from conventional slash and burn

0:29:280:29:31

quickly reduces plant material into ash

0:29:310:29:34

which leaches its goodness almost immediately.

0:29:340:29:37

But charcoal, made from a much gentler smouldering fire lit in the rainy season,

0:29:370:29:41

acts as a sponge for nutrients, holding them in the soil.

0:29:410:29:44

It's thought native Amazonians used this system long before settlers arrived

0:29:440:29:49

to transform some of the world's worst soil into some of the best.

0:29:490:29:53

There are still some tribes that practise similar techniques.

0:29:560:30:00

The Satere-Mawe tribe use the rainforest for all their daily needs,

0:30:000:30:05

and Bacu and her village want to share their knowledge

0:30:050:30:07

and show visitors her ancestors' way of growing things.

0:30:070:30:11

Mo is taking me to meet her because, for generations,

0:30:130:30:16

this tribe has been using fire to create compost

0:30:160:30:20

and to cultivate their poor rainforest soils.

0:30:200:30:22

Hello.

0:30:250:30:27

So what's she doing here?

0:30:280:30:31

She's using the old spoiled wood, it's not the good wood,

0:30:350:30:39

the spoiled wood, to make fire.

0:30:390:30:42

She takes the ashes for the plants to grow all the plants she needs.

0:30:420:30:48

Is she just putting the ash straight on,

0:30:480:30:52

or she is adding any other the soil?

0:30:520:30:54

SHE SPEAKS PORTUGUESE

0:30:540:30:57

The ashes she's using there, she gets some of the dead wood,

0:31:020:31:05

and puts them together, she says, not to get too strong, too acid.

0:31:050:31:10

I see. So it's just when she plants the plant.

0:31:100:31:13

SHE SPEAKS PORTUGUESE

0:31:150:31:18

When the plant is ugly, she has to do that over!

0:31:200:31:23

So you make it a good plant by using it.

0:31:230:31:26

Bacu slowly burns the mixture of dead wood and organic matter,

0:31:260:31:31

like her ancestors did, to create a soil conditioner

0:31:310:31:34

to propagate and raise healthy plants

0:31:340:31:36

in her small garden, year in, year out.

0:31:360:31:39

Can I see how she uses it in the garden?

0:31:420:31:46

THEY SPEAK PORTUGUESE

0:31:460:31:51

There is wood from the palm.

0:31:510:31:54

But she brings a different one to mix.

0:31:540:31:56

And then she says she's going to plant.

0:31:560:31:59

This is a thing that she uses for worms.

0:31:590:32:04

If you have a parasite in your intestines.

0:32:040:32:07

So she's taking a cutting?

0:32:070:32:09

Just a branch. She breaks a branch.

0:32:100:32:12

But she puts a little earth in here before she breaks,

0:32:140:32:17

so they have little roots already.

0:32:170:32:19

It makes roots presumably because it's so warm and moist, it wants to make roots.

0:32:190:32:24

Tell me, how long ago did she break that branch off?

0:32:240:32:27

Two days ago.

0:32:300:32:31

And it's started to put roots out already, in the air, with just a little soil round it.

0:32:310:32:36

From where I live, that is incredible.

0:32:360:32:39

There are very few plants that will do that.

0:32:390:32:42

Este esta de marejar e para xampu e tambem para criancas...

0:32:420:32:47

I understood "shampoo". And this one?

0:32:470:32:49

E remedio para gente que fala muito.

0:32:490:32:52

This is a plant she calls "shut-up".

0:32:520:32:57

This is to give to for people who talk too much.

0:32:570:33:01

Very useful plant! A very, very useful plant, that!

0:33:010:33:05

Before I go, I have the obligatory song and dance put on for visiting tourists.

0:33:050:33:11

But Bacu's intimacy with the forest is real and profound,

0:33:110:33:15

and not just a tourist display.

0:33:150:33:16

And her age-old knowledge, handed on to the children,

0:33:160:33:21

holds hope for the sustainable future of the rainforest.

0:33:210:33:25

Today has been really interesting because it's shown how quickly

0:33:450:33:52

you can lose that incredible knowledge that people have.

0:33:520:33:56

And if we undervalue that, and somehow regard it as worthless

0:33:560:34:02

once we've got mechanisation or industrialisation,

0:34:020:34:05

all the skills that you need to care and to work with a place

0:34:050:34:10

as complex as the jungle, go alarmingly quickly.

0:34:100:34:14

It's scary how we've lost what we need

0:34:160:34:20

to live in harmony with a place like this.

0:34:200:34:22

And yet it doesn't need us, of course, it doesn't need us at all.

0:34:220:34:26

It's time to end my all-too brief visit to the Amazon

0:34:310:34:35

and go to a landscape that couldn't be more different.

0:34:350:34:39

I'm heading south to Argentina now,

0:34:420:34:45

to see how gardening was crucial in enabling European settlers

0:34:450:34:48

to take root in a very inhospitable region.

0:34:480:34:51

Argentina runs down from the Andes

0:35:010:35:03

to the windswept featureless plains of the Pampas.

0:35:030:35:08

I'm starting my visit in the country's elegant capital,

0:35:080:35:12

Buenos Aires.

0:35:120:35:13

The name "Argentina" is derived from the Latin for silver, "argentum",

0:35:180:35:23

and was given by Spanish conquerors in 1524

0:35:230:35:25

who claimed that the mountains were rich in the precious metal.

0:35:250:35:29

This sparked a silver rush and, over the course of the next 300 years,

0:35:290:35:33

Argentina saw a mass migration of southern Europeans in search of a better life.

0:35:330:35:38

The city does feel to me as though it's got a European feel to it.

0:35:420:35:48

It's hard to place exactly but there is something distinctly European.

0:35:480:35:52

And I think it's as much to do with the avenues and the parks and the trees.

0:35:520:35:57

And the responsibility for those is directly down to one man.

0:35:570:36:02

The parks and broad tree-lined avenues of Buenos Aires

0:36:040:36:07

were designed by a French landscape architect called Charles Thays.

0:36:070:36:11

In 1889, when he was 40, he came here on a visit,

0:36:110:36:16

fell in love with the country and spent the rest of his life here.

0:36:160:36:20

It's directly thanks to him that the modern city has inherited

0:36:210:36:26

the green spaces and sheltering trees which it benefits from today,

0:36:260:36:31

as I learnt from his grandson and namesake, Carlos Thays.

0:36:310:36:35

TRANSLATION: He learnt the art of landscape design in Europe,

0:36:350:36:40

and saw the cities of London and Paris were tree-lined, and full of parks.

0:36:400:36:46

There were absolutely no trees and parks in Buenos Aires when he arrived,

0:36:460:36:52

so he planted 1.2 million trees in the streets of Buenos Aires.

0:36:520:36:57

Although the city has a distinctly European feel,

0:36:580:37:02

the trees that Charles Thays planted

0:37:020:37:04

were often species native to South America.

0:37:040:37:07

And none is more magnificent than this beautiful giant.

0:37:070:37:10

This is one of the most wonderful trees I've ever seen.

0:37:160:37:19

It's a gomero, rubber tree.

0:37:190:37:21

Apart from the fact that it's enormous,

0:37:210:37:24

it has great significance because it was the first tree,

0:37:240:37:27

apparently, planted here in Buenos Aires.

0:37:270:37:30

And, in the 200 years since it was planted, it has become vast.

0:37:300:37:34

In the middle of this incredibly noisy, busy city,

0:37:340:37:38

it's a symbolic stately presence.

0:37:380:37:42

The influence of Charles Thays's tree-planting

0:37:450:37:48

can be felt throughout the city,

0:37:480:37:51

but it also extended into the countryside.

0:37:510:37:54

So tomorrow, I am going to head out to wilderness of the Pampas.

0:37:540:37:57

The open, even bleak, landscape of the Pampas,

0:38:080:38:11

is the territory of the beef barons.

0:38:110:38:13

It is where European settlers turned these wind-battered but fertile flatlands

0:38:130:38:19

into a very successful rural economy,

0:38:190:38:21

based around huge cattle ranches called "estancias".

0:38:210:38:24

As they prospered, the owners of the estancias

0:38:280:38:31

built themselves impressive houses and grounds.

0:38:310:38:34

I've come to see Estancia Dos Talas, a remnant, albeit somewhat reduced,

0:38:340:38:39

of a golden age when this European elite transformed Argentina.

0:38:390:38:44

Estancia Dos Talas was built in 1858 by Pedro Luro

0:38:540:38:58

who came to the country at 17 without a penny to his name.

0:38:580:39:01

But through a combination of graft and guile,

0:39:010:39:04

became one of the most important landowners in Argentina.

0:39:040:39:07

The estancia came into the family by the most extraordinary route

0:39:130:39:17

because Don Pedro Luro was offered the job of planting trees.

0:39:170:39:22

And he was going to be paid in land.

0:39:220:39:24

So many trees, you get so much land.

0:39:240:39:25

The owner then went away to Europe for three years and, in his absence,

0:39:250:39:29

Don Pedro planted trees like a man possessed.

0:39:290:39:32

Tens of thousands of trees.

0:39:320:39:33

And when we came back, the owner found the only way he could pay him

0:39:330:39:37

was by giving him all the land.

0:39:370:39:38

The case went to court, Don Pedro won and he found himself with 17,000 hectares of the Pampas.

0:39:380:39:45

This is a pigeon house.

0:40:010:40:02

And every self-respecting big house or farm house

0:40:020:40:08

had a pigeon house in England.

0:40:080:40:09

But it's a European thing.

0:40:090:40:11

And apparently the stone,

0:40:110:40:13

these ledges for the pigeons to go on, was brought in from Europe.

0:40:130:40:17

It's old red sandstone which is what my house in England is made out of!

0:40:170:40:22

It doesn't exist in South America.

0:40:220:40:24

It was all shipped over here.

0:40:240:40:26

And the most ornate fabulous building, occupied now by bees.

0:40:260:40:33

What a lovely building.

0:40:330:40:35

At the start of the 20th century, Buenos Aires's top landscape architect,

0:40:360:40:40

who was of course Charles Thays,

0:40:400:40:42

was commissioned to draw up plans for a 75-acre park.

0:40:420:40:46

The estancia has remained in the same family,

0:40:460:40:49

and Sara de Elizalde, the current chatelaine,

0:40:490:40:51

showed me Thays's original plans for the design of the garden.

0:40:510:40:55

This is a highly fashionable design in June 1908.

0:40:550:41:01

Did he oversee the execution of it?

0:41:010:41:06

TRANSLATION: When Charles Thays started to supervise the work

0:41:060:41:10

he came here and saw that many trees had already been planted.

0:41:100:41:15

So, he designed the garden to incorporate those that were already here.

0:41:150:41:20

It must be quite a responsibility to feel you have

0:41:200:41:24

this exceptional design and garden that it is your duty to look after?

0:41:240:41:32

Well, my husband Luis feels that it is a legacy

0:41:320:41:38

to maintain the whole estancia, but especially the park.

0:41:380:41:41

It is something he has in his blood

0:41:410:41:44

and he suffers a lot whenever there is a storm and a tree falls down.

0:41:440:41:49

He fights hard to keep everything in good condition.

0:41:490:41:52

To appreciate this vast garden, Sara's husband, Luis de Elizalde,

0:41:520:41:57

suggested that I explore his estate on horseback.

0:41:570:42:00

I don't often get the chance to ride,

0:42:020:42:05

but there is no better way to get round

0:42:050:42:07

and see some of the 1,400 hectares, or 3,500 acres, of the estancia.

0:42:070:42:13

Things like this avenue, the scale of it, is extraordinary.

0:42:130:42:18

-And these trees are what?

-Casuarina.

0:42:180:42:21

The beautiful thing of these trees

0:42:210:42:24

is that, when the wind blows, it produces the sound of the sea.

0:42:240:42:29

I know, I heard it this morning!

0:42:290:42:31

But I didn't realise it was these trees causing it. How fabulous.

0:42:310:42:35

I imagine that on the Pampas

0:42:350:42:37

the original settlers must have felt so exposed.

0:42:370:42:41

Yes, they had only the tala, but the tala doesn't grow over six metres.

0:42:410:42:46

-A tree, but a small tree.

-A small tree.

0:42:460:42:48

So these were planted as windbreaks,

0:42:480:42:51

and obviously very beautiful avenues.

0:42:510:42:53

Was it practicality first and then beauty?

0:42:530:42:57

They loved planting long avenues, and wide,

0:42:570:43:01

just to make them important.

0:43:010:43:04

The whole park is carved into these great avenues, dividing the woods into blocks.

0:43:060:43:11

Some have clearly been clipped but are now grown out so they have become dramatic tunnels.

0:43:110:43:16

They also provide vital protection on this completely exposed landscape.

0:43:160:43:22

Charles Thays's park can't possibly be maintained today in the style

0:43:240:43:29

that needed 16 gardeners to tend it in its pre-war heyday.

0:43:290:43:34

But it has matured to become a rambling, overgrown but magical garden

0:43:340:43:39

dominated by more than 50 species of superb trees,

0:43:390:43:43

including an avenue of dead but still magnificent elms.

0:43:430:43:48

It's big and it's flat.

0:43:540:43:56

Immeasurably, literally immeasurably.

0:43:560:44:00

One big field.

0:44:000:44:02

Between the fences, we are talking about 60 hectares here.

0:44:030:44:07

So each field is about 60 hectares?

0:44:070:44:09

-60, 70. From 100 to 60.

-Right.

0:44:090:44:13

So the Pampas has been like this forever,

0:44:130:44:16

but presumably the grazing affects the grass and what's grown here.

0:44:160:44:20

If it's left ungrazed, how does it turn?

0:44:200:44:24

Because trees don't grow on it.

0:44:240:44:26

Yes, but grass does.

0:44:260:44:29

Because it's the soil is so good, so good that we never fertilise this.

0:44:290:44:35

And the grass just keeps growing and growing.

0:44:350:44:37

-That's why the Pampas, it's mainly for cattle.

-So it's cattle.

0:44:370:44:42

Cattle, cattle and cattle!

0:44:420:44:44

There are a few trees to be found growing naturally on the Pampas,

0:44:500:44:54

but they are small, and very tough.

0:44:540:44:56

Anything much bigger than a blade of grass

0:44:560:44:58

has difficulty surviving because of the constant wind.

0:44:580:45:01

It's not hard to see why these vast shelter belts

0:45:010:45:04

were planted around the edge of the park.

0:45:040:45:06

The last storm, Katrina, went through New Orleans.

0:45:090:45:15

And the tail of that wind, if you look on the map,

0:45:150:45:18

came through and put them all down, at once.

0:45:180:45:21

Pomp, pomp, pomp...

0:45:210:45:24

You must have come down the next morning and...

0:45:240:45:27

140 km the wind.

0:45:270:45:30

Really?

0:45:300:45:31

Do you feel you need to replant it, to recreate...?

0:45:330:45:37

Of course!

0:45:370:45:39

If God gives me the time, I'll do it!

0:45:390:45:41

The reason that I came to Argentina was to see the Pampas.

0:46:050:46:09

And of course, I accept there much more to the place than that.

0:46:090:46:13

But I really wanted to see how you could garden

0:46:130:46:17

in a place of such vast, flat almost emptiness.

0:46:170:46:21

Charles Thays did not shut out the Pampas completely.

0:46:210:46:26

He carefully plotted sunset and sunrise and left openings

0:46:260:46:29

in his planting to view them and make them part of the garden.

0:46:290:46:33

And the existence of this huge garden is, I think,

0:46:330:46:37

a defiant expression of mastery over this fertile yet intimidating space,

0:46:370:46:44

imposing, for a while at least, a European culture upon it.

0:46:440:46:47

But it's time to leave the Argentinean Pampas

0:46:500:46:54

and continue on to the final stage of my journey,

0:46:540:46:57

to a country of startling contrasts - Chile.

0:46:570:47:00

Chile is 18 times longer than it is wide.

0:47:040:47:09

It has 4,300 miles of coastline and is 180 miles across.

0:47:090:47:15

The Andes flank the entire length of the country,

0:47:200:47:24

and the arid plains of the Atacama desert seal the north.

0:47:240:47:28

To the south are the ice flows of Patagonia.

0:47:280:47:32

I want to find out how Chilean gardeners are inspired by such dramatic backdrops.

0:47:320:47:38

I suppose if you got enough time the best way to see this country

0:47:380:47:41

would be to go from the far north right down to the frozen south,

0:47:410:47:45

but I've decided to take a slice across the country,

0:47:450:47:48

from the Andes to the Pacific.

0:47:480:47:50

Botanically speaking, Chile is like an island

0:47:530:47:55

with new plant material unable to enter from any direction,

0:47:550:47:59

and it has such extreme environments

0:47:590:48:01

that an incredible range of endemic plants thrive here.

0:48:010:48:04

The Chilean palm is one of these.

0:48:060:48:09

Their trunks shrink and bulge with age as they put all their energy into producing fruit.

0:48:090:48:14

They're also extremely slow growing and live to a great age.

0:48:140:48:18

This veteran is thought to be the oldest palm tree in the world

0:48:180:48:21

and is more than 1,000 years old.

0:48:210:48:24

But the palm was almost exploited to extinction because of its sap,

0:48:260:48:32

which was extracted and then boiled up to make syrup.

0:48:320:48:35

This is illegal now, and today the palm is the national emblem of Chile.

0:48:350:48:40

Wet!

0:48:540:48:55

THUNDER RUMBLES

0:48:550:48:57

Near the Campana National Park, a local hacienda has been trying

0:48:570:49:02

to protect the Chilean palm and increase their numbers.

0:49:020:49:05

They collect syrup, but only if a tree falls naturally,

0:49:050:49:08

and the owner has invited me over to try this for myself.

0:49:080:49:11

Salud.

0:49:170:49:19

I hope it's not medicine.

0:49:190:49:20

Es muy dulce, pero muy rica.

0:49:220:49:25

As they say where I live, "something different".

0:49:290:49:32

It is like drinking treacle.

0:49:320:49:35

It's a very big glass, but I will endeavour.

0:49:370:49:41

Charles Darwin visited Chile on the voyage of the Beagle,

0:49:490:49:53

and he noted the Chilean palm

0:49:530:49:55

and he said he thought it was a remarkably ugly tree.

0:49:550:49:58

Well, each to their own, but I think he was wrong.

0:49:580:50:01

I think there's something really splendid about them,

0:50:010:50:04

and I love these great elephant's feet of the trucks.

0:50:040:50:08

It may be not worth travelling in the Beagle round the world

0:50:080:50:12

just to see these but certainly worth a stop-off.

0:50:120:50:14

At last the rain stops, and I get back on the road.

0:50:200:50:24

One of the real treats of travelling

0:50:400:50:42

is when you come across plants you've nurtured in your garden growing wild,

0:50:420:50:46

and these eschscholtzias are just spilling down the hillside.

0:50:460:50:50

They're everywhere!

0:50:500:50:51

And they're just as exotic as something you'd find in the jungle.

0:50:510:50:55

These eschscholtzias are not native to Chile,

0:50:570:51:00

but they do love it here and have naturalised from their home in California.

0:51:000:51:05

For my final garden of this trip,

0:51:110:51:13

I'm bound for Los Vilos on the Pacific coast

0:51:130:51:16

to meet a Chilean designer whose gardens celebrate the native flora of his homeland.

0:51:160:51:22

It's by a man called Juan Grimm, Chile's leading garden designer,

0:51:220:51:26

very well known in South America.

0:51:260:51:28

He's modern, he's contemporary.

0:51:280:51:30

The site is supposed to be really dramatic.

0:51:300:51:32

And I know that he's passionate about using Chilean plants,

0:51:320:51:36

of combining the landscape and house with indigenous species.

0:51:360:51:40

The first thing that is striking about Juan Grimm's garden

0:51:560:51:59

is it's hard to see where the garden begins or, indeed, where it ends.

0:51:590:52:04

There are certainly no showy displays of flowers

0:52:130:52:16

and no neatly defined borders,

0:52:160:52:18

just an infinitely sophisticated use of local plants,

0:52:180:52:21

gently coerced into colonising this rocky site,

0:52:210:52:25

which tumbles into the Pacific.

0:52:250:52:27

When I was a child, I really remember the sensuality,

0:52:300:52:34

how the landscape

0:52:340:52:36

touched the leaves, touched the rocks.

0:52:360:52:40

I loved that when I was a child.

0:52:400:52:41

The garden swells up from the very edge of the sea

0:52:430:52:46

in an unbroken, flowing progression lapping around the house.

0:52:460:52:50

Every part of the landscape, including the sky and sea,

0:52:500:52:54

seemed to be part of the garden.

0:52:540:52:56

I'm interested in following this idea

0:52:570:52:59

of where a garden begins and ends.

0:52:590:53:02

How do you phase the garden out into a big landscape like this sea

0:53:020:53:08

-or into woods or whatever?

-Mm-hm.

0:53:080:53:10

Your sight doesn't have limits.

0:53:100:53:13

Even though it's a small space,

0:53:130:53:16

you can borrow the tree from your neighbour.

0:53:160:53:20

Or in this case, you don't feel where the sight ends.

0:53:200:53:25

-So, you're looking to use the landscape?

-Absolutely.

0:53:250:53:28

The landscape says to you what you have to do,

0:53:280:53:31

and that's the important thing.

0:53:310:53:33

That covered wall looks, actually, remarkably like a clipped hedge.

0:53:480:53:51

Uh-huh, yes. That's the idea.

0:53:510:53:55

I left this window here in the hedge because this plant was here

0:53:550:54:01

but was very small, but in ten years it has grown.

0:54:010:54:05

And I like to see the landscape very far from here.

0:54:050:54:10

I think it's very important to have references for the landscape.

0:54:100:54:14

-And fundamentally, you use native plants here.

-Native plants.

0:54:140:54:17

All of these are native plants.

0:54:170:54:19

They resist the wind and the salt of the ocean.

0:54:190:54:23

It must have been quite a challenge making the steps,

0:54:260:54:30

-getting a route through the garden.

-Uh-huh.

0:54:300:54:33

Yes, and I think it was very important

0:54:330:54:38

not to see the stairs from the house,

0:54:380:54:41

and that's why I plant all the shrubs.

0:54:410:54:43

How long did it take until the shrubs

0:54:430:54:46

formed the bulk and the volume that you needed?

0:54:460:54:50

Five years, more or less.

0:54:500:54:52

And the swimming pool. Was this part of your original plan?

0:54:520:54:55

I always wanted to have a part of the ocean, like an eye of the ocean.

0:54:550:55:00

It makes you conscious with the house.

0:55:000:55:02

So looking back up at the house...

0:55:020:55:04

..you've got the hard lines and then softness,

0:55:060:55:09

just everything organic in shape and form.

0:55:090:55:11

The house is inside the plants.

0:55:110:55:14

It emerges from the rock and from the plants.

0:55:140:55:17

So the house is growing with the plants.

0:55:170:55:20

To what extent have you planted up the rocks?

0:55:200:55:22

All these plants near the swimming pool, I plant them,

0:55:220:55:25

and some of those I planted around there because it was very dry there.

0:55:250:55:30

But all the plants that grow in the rocks, they grow spontaneously.

0:55:300:55:34

I tried to be more natural.

0:55:340:55:36

All these flowers you see here, the alstromerias,

0:55:360:55:40

when I watered this part of the garden,

0:55:400:55:43

the seeds came here and they grew here.

0:55:430:55:47

I love the way the garden gently and without any self-consciousness

0:55:470:55:52

goes completely to nature, completely wild,

0:55:520:55:56

in the space of, what, ten metres?

0:55:560:55:59

I like how the plants are very green,

0:55:590:56:04

and the green starts to disappear here, and the rocks the other way.

0:56:040:56:08

Too much rocks and the rocks disappear.

0:56:080:56:11

Presumably that relationship between the green and the rocks

0:56:110:56:14

and the ground changes all the time.

0:56:140:56:16

Do you manage that or do you let it happen?

0:56:160:56:19

Well, just a little. I put some plants.

0:56:190:56:22

You see those yellow one there?

0:56:220:56:25

That's a native plant. I put it there.

0:56:250:56:27

And some of the shrubs also.

0:56:270:56:29

So minimal intervention, minimal gardening, for maximum effect.

0:56:290:56:34

That's the idea.

0:56:340:56:35

You know, I think Juan Grimm's garden is one of

0:56:380:56:40

the most beautiful and brilliantly conceived that I have ever seen.

0:56:400:56:45

It is a glorious masterpiece.

0:56:450:56:48

And more than that, I'm sure that his use of native plants,

0:56:480:56:52

working with the landscape rather than trying to dominate it,

0:56:520:56:55

is the key for any sustainable future.

0:56:550:56:58

This journey has shown me fascinating gardens,

0:57:010:57:04

created in such incredibly diverse natural conditions,

0:57:040:57:07

that you can hardly believe that the same landmass can harbour such varied places.

0:57:070:57:12

But in all those places,

0:57:150:57:18

you have this common desire to create something from nature

0:57:180:57:23

that is domesticated and yet in tune with it.

0:57:230:57:26

And I think this is the really extraordinary, exciting thing about South America,

0:57:260:57:30

that it has very recently realised that it must work with its surroundings respectfully,

0:57:300:57:38

and yet what it does have is that intense enthusiasm and creativity which is very, very exciting.

0:57:380:57:44

This has been my first trip here, but it won't be my last.

0:57:440:57:48

My next journey will take me across the Atlantic

0:57:520:57:55

to see what the United States of America is doing

0:57:550:57:58

with all its wealth and power in the garden.

0:57:580:58:02

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:120:58:15

Email subtitling@bbc.co.uk

0:58:150:58:18

Monty Don visits the world's 80 most inspiring gardens. This time he is in South America, a continent twice the size of Europe and the home of more than 50,000 endemic plant species. In Rio de Janeiro, Monty visits the private garden of Brazil's most famous artist, Burle Marx. He views the ingenious floating gardens of the Amazon. He visits a crumbling estancia (ranch) in the windy Pampas. He ends his journey on the Pacific coast of Chile in a garden that sits harmoniously in its landscape.