With an exotic garden winning RHS Hampton Court Flower Show’s best in show accolade this month, the jungle look has never been hotter and it’s ideal for London’s small urban gardens.
The more modest your space, the greater the drama when you think big and plant bold-leaved bananas, palms and tree ferns. Team them with big pots and sculpture for maximum impact.
AN URBAN MINI-JUNGLE IN DULWICHGraham Clayton and his partner so loved the tropical garden of their neighbour, garden designer Antonia Schofield, that they asked her if she could work the same magic in theirs.
The result is a great collaboration. From the street, this Dulwich house looks like a typical London terrace, but step out of the folding doors at the back and you’d think you were in Asia.
In this south-facing mini jungle of six metres by five, lustrous banana leaves shine, tree ferns work their emerald magic and yellow bamboo stems line the back wall.
A ceramicist, Clayton has added some of his sculptural heads among the foliage, giving the garden a sort of Angkor Wat lost civilisation feel as you lounge on the wide benches and listen to the wind rustling through the bamboo.
“They were dream clients,” says Schofield. “They wanted to be experimental and have full-on planting. Most people shy away from the tropical style of planting because they think it’s too difficult, but it isn’t.”
THE PERFECT MICROCLIMATEplants which can survive outside in winter thanks to the city’s microclimate. Many naturally grow in the shaded understory of forests, so are happy in gardens that get little direct sun.
Our frequent rainfall suits them, too — though this scorching summer Clayton’s plants have benefited from an automatic watering system.
Schofield designed rendered blockwork raised beds painted in Farrow & Ball Railings, making the perfect dark foil for the fresh, emerald foliage, while soft grey Indian sandstone paving is a classy base.
Cedar benches add to the tropical veranda vibe and can be moved around. “We worked with Dulwich designers at Six Nine Three on the design of the furniture,” says Clayton. “The table has feet you can just screw on to double the leg length so it can be a coffee or a dining table.”
TOP TIPS FOR TROPICAL PLANTING
Bamboo makes a perfect privacy screen at the back for this garden which, like many in London, is overlooked by neighbours. The yellow stems of phyllostachys aurea stand out beautifully against the dark wall, especially if you remove the lower leaves. Against a white wall, black-stemmed bamboo, phyllostachys nigra, would be equally dramatic.
Australian tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) bring instant exoticism, not to mention a wonderful primeval weirdness. Their roots are in the central trunk so Schofield placed a spout on the top to let water drip down and irrigate the stem. “The trunk should be blacky-brown,” she says. “If it’s pale grey, it’s too dry and not healthy.” To be on the safe side, Clayton sprays them with a hose and feeds them with tomato feed, pouring it on with a watering can from the top.
Adding to the tropical feel, a tumble of persicaria microcephala Purple Fantasy, with marker-pen neat markings on its arrow-shaped leaves, looks all the sharper near the glaucous tangle of maidenhair vine or muehlenbeckia complexa, trailing over the side of the beds.
Mexican lily (beschorneria yuccoides) underplants the banana in a spiky rosette rather like a yucca without its fearsome spines. Next to it are canna Indica and clumps of day lilies (hemerocallis Stafford) which send up exotic red and orange flowers all summer. Both die away in winter to return each spring. Even humble nasturtiums look at home in this tropical setting.
Schofield sums up the look. “Think big and bold with architectural-leaved plants.”
And for that finishing touch? Soft, rainproof cushions for your benches that go with the painted walls — you can get them in a wide range of colours and patterns.
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