Creating an urban jungle paradise in or around London (or even finding a house with a decent garden) can prove an impossible task for some, but not for Alex and Joe, who fell in love over their mutual passion for gardening.
The pair’s award-winning garden in South East London has been nurtured since 2012, forming the tranquil escape that it is today. Self-dubbed The Gardening Guys, Alex and Joe document their progress on their blog, thegardeningguys.co.uk.
Urban jungle paradise: The beginning
Back in early 2012 we moved in to our new home, it was dated and required a lot of work but had a good sized garden with lots of potential. We should have renovated the house first, but for us, the garden was always going to be the priority.
The garden had its challenges. It is long and narrow at 5m by 30m, it has an incline of 2.5m over the length of the garden, it was overlooked by a number of neighbours and the soil is heavy London clay. However, it also has some great points, the biggest being it backs on to a large park with many mature trees.
Our previous gardens naturally evolved. We didn’t really have a plan and we bought plants on whims. The gardens turned out lovely but the lack of planning was obvious in the planting mix. This time we wanted to stick to a tropical theme.
Laying the groundwork
Before we started work we brainstormed what we wanted from the garden. We wanted somewhere private, that we could use every day of the year, and that made the most of the space we had.
The first step was to get the structure of the garden right. To remove the issue of the gradient, we tiered the garden into four levels. The back of the garden is in full sun until early evening, so this is where we put the entertaining space, which in spring doubles up as our propagation space. On the bottom tier we built a conservatory so we could enjoy the garden on even the wettest days. The middle two tiers were initially laid to lawn and borders filled with tropical inspired planting.
The tiers also meant we could bring in lots of good quality top soil, making the clay easier to work. Clay can dry out in summer – not great for the ferns we wanted to grow. So, to combat this, we installed an irrigation system, directing water into the crown of each plant.
The urban jungle two years in
Whilst this looked beautiful, it still wasn’t quite the tropical escape we had in mind. The whole garden was visible in one go – and after all how many manicured lawns do you find in the jungle? The grass had to go! We wanted the garden to have a sense of anticipation, revealing more as you journey through. We ripped up the grass, installed a meandering sleeper path broken by planting and invested in a number of mature plants.
By the end of 2016 it was all starting to come together. The plants were filling out, the bamboos were creating much needed height and privacy, and hidden areas had begun to form.
The final touches
We wanted to add something that would complete our tropical escape and add to the sense of relaxation. Making the most of a newly hidden corner, we added a wood-fired hot tub! The plants were now mature enough to completely block the view from neighbouring windows. Just in time, as clambering half naked into the hot tub on a cold day is not a pretty sight!
Now the hard work is done, we have successfully created our own tropical hideaway and we love to share it with family and friends.