Thursday, 6 January 2011

Finding the inner jungle: myth vs reality in jungle style gardening

A lot of people talk about creating jungle or exotic gardens but I’m finding the idea of what is quite a broad style of gardening a little unclear. On some forums it seems to mean just growing a Musa Basjoo and CIDP (Canary Island Date Palm) and on others it’s trying to get anything tropical to survive outside
In a way creating a jungle garden is more about creating an idea, and putting things in the right place and context so that the feeling is right as perfectly hardy plants like ferns or a Gunnera can look just as tropical, if not more so that a badly frosted vine. 
I was trying to think about what my own jungle inspirations are, and where they have come from
Willard Price books: This is probably my earliest jungle memory as I read a lot of these when I was young, and remember the feeling of excitement and exploration. At the time I also had a huge desert island mural on my bedroom wall...I dread to look at one of them now as they strike me as the kind of books that age very badly and are probably really racist so I think I won’t look at them again to preserve the memory!
Alfred Maudslay (with a bit of Indiana Jones): When younger I went through a bit of a phase where I was a bit obsessed with pre Columbian Central American cultures, settling a bit on the Maya. In particular there was an explorer called Alfred Maudslay who was one of those Victorians who just went out and discovered things and spent an awful lot of time in the jungle excavating Mayan sites. I love the thought of the ruins emerging from the jungle and finding whole temples...this is a little bit similar to the bits at the start of Indiana Jones when they are in the temple with the giant rolling boulder, and then again in the Temple of Doom one where they discover the city in India.

I think I may be able to make this from all the rubble I have

The plant world is king: Angkor/Cambodian Ruins: I was lucky to go to Cambodia and loved wandering around the ruins, particularly the ones which were only partially excavated. With huge trees emerging from the tops of walls and plants managing to grow everywhere you know nature is the boss. It was also great to clamber over things, something which is the complete opposite of our fenced off and ‘do not touch’ heritage. I think a jungle garden needs this rampant exuberance of nature, and with things growing in unexpected places. Bare earth=bad, naturalistic planting with things self seeding everywhere=good.
This is why you should always remove seedlings from your guttering
Jungle Boogie: well I wasn’t going to say Jungle (is massive) music, but the rift from Jungle boogie by Cool and the Gang is what I want to hear in my head as I wander around...that or a gamelan orchestra, I’m not fussy...
Thai and Balinese Gardens: I LOVE Thailand, I love the culture, food, creativity, the gardens and their style. I always find it a bit odd that gardening in the tropics isn’t really established in the way that it is in the UK, I wonder if it is because gardens are difficult to maintain as everything grows so quickly. Anyway, I love Jim Thompsons Garden, and the one at Suan Pakkard Palace and M.R. Kurrit heritage house. I always come home wanting more big leaved things, and large pots of water with fish and water lilies in them. I searched for ages for large Chinese water pots in the UK, and last year had 3 on the terrace filled with water with umbrella grass and Water Cannas and they were great. This was a great way to grow them as they are hungry plants and you can give them lots of fertilizer without turning your pond in to a green soup.... the Thalia were twice the size of those in the pond.
Im hoping B&Q has one like this
Its the same thing with Balianese gardens, although I also go crazy for their sculpture....I had an emotional moment in the rain at the side of the road in UBud at a carving place where despite much banging on a calculator the cost of shipping anything back was way more expensive than I could ever justify, even if I was even more creating than usual (I can justify buying anything is I’m at an auction!)

Why have a shed when you can have a palace?

Thailand wins on design, but I love Balinese gardens for this traditional nature and the combination of sculpture, compounds and little ‘room’ gardens.

So for me the overall things I’ve aiming for in my jungle garden is:
·         Luxuriance and big stuff: big leaves, bananas, big bamboos, Tetrapanax etc things that make you feel small
·         Naturalistic planting which is rampant, especially with climbers and lots of self seeding
·         Feeling of nature being just kept at bay with growth you need to push aside to get past
·         Feeling of discovery: finding sculpture (please can I have a container load of Balinese carvings for my birthday? I have been a very good boy)
·         Heady scents
·         Water pots/containers
·         Kool and the gang performing at weekends
So that’s the plan....not quite there yet!

View of my garden....I wish! proper Bali jungle


  1. What a wonderful blog! I really look forward to following you. Best wishes, Charlotte

  2. Finding your particular inspirations is essential indeed, it will guide you to the particular look and feel you'd want to achieve.

    I think both Thai and Balinese gardens will put you on the right track!

    Looking forward to your updates and watching the progress of your garden :)