The Atlantic Forest in gardens: a look at the work of Burle Marx

The Atlantic Forest in gardens: a look at the work of Burle Marx

Published On: 28 de May de 2024

“I believe it is time for Brazil to learn to love nature – the forests, rivers, lakes, animals, birds. I believe we need to reformulate our concept of patriotism. Patriotism, for me, is protecting our heritage. Artistic, cultural, and the land, which gives us all of this.” Burle Marx


How many species can be used in a garden? The diversity of shapes, smells, colors and textures of plants native to the Atlantic Forest point out ways to think about public and private spaces in cities beyond landscaping; combining aesthetics and nature and valuing the characteristics of the environment and the species that naturally occur in the region. 

This principle was fundamental in the work of Burle Marx, master of landscaping in Brazil, who signed projects in Brazil and abroad, such as the landscaping of Flamengo Park (Rio de Janeiro), Gardens and terraces of the Itamaraty Palace (Brasília), Jardim to the Jaburu Palace, official residence of the vice-presidency of the Republic (Brasília), Gardens of the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro) and Praça da Cidadania – UFSC (Florianópolis).

The Burle Marx projects brought significant innovations to the image of the Brazilian garden, which were traditionally designed according to the European tradition, in a symmetrical way, using hierarchical lines and proportions. Exotic species – often poorly adapted to Brazil's climate – were replaced by native species, from bromeliads to trees that provide large amounts of shade. 

Project by Burle Marx. Credit: MoMA and Austin Kleon/Reproduction.

The flowerbeds designed by the artist break with symmetry, show generous curves, a great diversity of species and do not seek to enhance the value of flowers, they seek to show beauty in the shapes of the trunks, varied tones in the leaves and shapes that were previously found only in forests.  

“Making an artificial landscape is not denying or slavishly imitating nature. It is knowing how to transpose and associate, based on a selective, personal criterion, the results of a slow, intense and prolonged observation. From my personal experience I can now remember all the learning I learned through living with botanists whose collaboration I consider indispensable to anyone who wants to dedicate themselves to the task of creating conscious and in-depth landscaping, taking advantage of this immense heritage, so misunderstood by landscapers and garden lovers, that It’s the exuberant Brazilian flora.” Garden and Ecology – Burle Marx (1967). 


Many of the species used by Burle Marx are native to the Atlantic Forest. Ipês of all colors, coconut trees, palm hearts, bromeliads and araçás were planted and continue to grow in their projects, which always advocate the resilience and sustainability of the garden, maintaining the species that were planted and requiring little maintenance. Species selection also takes into account ecological succession, a principle of Ecology that unites species that are dependent on each other. Pioneer species (those that grow first in the forest) provide shade, protection and shelter for the most sensitive plants, for example. 

Additionally, solutions for cities' resilience to extreme weather events can be incorporated into landscape design, such as permeable paving; creating rain gardens; rainwater beds and areas of direct underground infiltration; retention ditches, with beds that have channels that allow water to infiltrate through drainage elements or the vegetation itself.

> Learn more about the Rain Gardens 

The new garden model presented by Burle Marx is an opportunity to value Nature, to bring people closer to the Environment, to value biodiversity and to think about public spaces that are useful, pleasant to all the senses and welcoming to people and others species. His works are also an invitation for architects, landscapers and anyone who wants to get their hands dirty to first consider planting native species in their gardens.

Burle Marx project registration implemented. Photo: Livro Sítio Roberto Burle Marx.


Atlantic Forest species used by Burle Marx

List of species produced by Jardim das Florestas Nursery – Apremavi (Atalanta, SC): Ipês of all colors, coconut tree-jerivá (Syagrus romanzoffiana), palm heart (Euterpe edulis), bromeliads, Sibipiruna (Caesalpinia rainfalla), Manacá (Brunfelsia uniflora), jabuticaba (Myrciaria jaboticaba), Rio Grande cherry (involucrate eugenics), pitanga (uniflora eugenics), Ironwood (Caesalpinia ferrea), rosewood (Jacaranda mimosaefolia), canafistula (Peltophorum dubium), ripão (Cassia leptophylla), spring (Bougainville spectabilis) and araçás. 

List of species produced by Nursery of the Copaíba Environmentalist Association (Socorro, SP): purple araçá (Psidium Rufum), yellow ipê (Handroanthus chrysotrichus), jabuticaba (Plinia peruviana)
palm heart (Euterpe edulis), cow paw (Bauhinia forficata) and pitanga (uniflora eugenics).

The species produced in the Apremavi and Copaíba nurseries are used in ecological restoration initiatives, but are also available for sale. Photo: Copaíba Environmental Association.

References consulted:


ECKER, Vivian Dall'igna. The square as a locus of sociability: case study of Praça da Cidadania, on the UFSC Campus. 2016. 253 f. Dissertation (Master’s) – Postgraduate Program Course in Urbanism, History and City Architecture (Pgau-Cidade), Federal University of Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, 2016.

STORINO, Claudia; SIQUEIRA, Vera Beatriz (org.). Roberto Burle Marx Site. São Paulo: Intermuseus, 2020. 309 p

WISNIK, Guilherme (org.). Invented Paradises. São Paulo: Almeida and Dale Galeria, 2020.

Author: Vitor Lauro Zanelatto
Collaboration: Taís Fontanive (Apremavi) and Erika Xavier (Copaíba).


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