“This garden solves all its problems with plants”

Georgina Reid visits Ian McMaugh’s jungle courtyard in the urban subtropics

This garden solves all its design issues with plants

I have a theory that inner city areas, with tiny houses, tiny gardens and lots of surrounding hard surfaces, are the best places for jungle gardens (except for the Amazon, of course).

As these spaces are often constrained in terms of size, sunlight and privacy, creative design solutions are required to make the most of them.

And, if you ask me, the most creative design solutions often involve going overboard with plants. Nothing says ‘overboard with plants’ like a jungle garden. They’re the perfect contrast to concrete, inner-city environments, just ask garden designer Ian McMaugh, he’s created my ultimate urban jungle garden at his home in Redfern, Sydney.

Growing up on a farm in central west NSW, plants were something Ian had loved since childhood, but it wasn’t until looking for a career change after 20 years as a fashion designer that they became a professional pursuit.

He says, ‘I remember being very interested in plants as a kid and entering the local show when I was 9. The section was called ‘Miniature Garden Planted in a Cake Tin.’ I won first prize. That was the beginning.

As a designer, Ian’s style is loose and naturalistic. His own garden is a reflection of this but, he says, it’s not as ‘designed’ as his clients’ gardens.

“My clients have specific wants and needs, whereas my own garden is more of a collection of plants I like …I don’t like overly designed gardens. Personally, I feel more relaxed in a space that has evolved.”

Ian and his partner bought their property in 1996, after renting it for three years. When they moved in, both the front and back gardens were in bad shape. The back garden, which faces west, was a no-go-zone due to the harsh summer heat, bad paving, ugly aluminum shed and dilapidated, corrugated-iron fencing.

Ian’s three main challenges in designing this garden were ugly sight lines, noise and security. His solution: plants, plants, and more plants. He planted dense layers of green to absorb the noise, and to hide ugly views, and included extra spiky bromeliads on top of the boundary walls for security, referring to them as “botanical substitutes for razor wire”!

The orange tree in the centre of the space, whilst creating a lovely shade canopy, provides extra growing space for Ian’s collection of tropical and subtropical epiphytic jungle plants like bromeliads, orchids and air plants.

Often design problems are solved with screens, walls, wood, stone and steel, which certainly have benefits (longevity and less maintenance than plants).

This garden solves all its design issues with plants. The simple grey pavers throughout the space provide a great foil to the exuberance of the foliage, and provide for practical seating areas and accessibility, but the greenery is where its at.

The effect of this garden is one of relief, retreat and wonder. Not only does it feel great to be in, this garden is an absolute treasure trove of amazing plants. It’s the size of a postage stamp but I reckon it would take me a good few hours of investigating to really see it all. It’s the work of both a passionate collector and a highly creative soul. A true jungle gem.

This article was original published on The Planthunter, visit theplanthunter.com.au

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Georgina Reid

Georgina Reid is a Sydney based writer, landscape designer, and founder and editor of The Planthunter online magazine.

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