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exotic garden designs tropical gardens

tropical garden design london

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design & words Amir Schlezingeramir schlezinger

Tropical Garden Design

While many urban gardens embody contrived retrofitted frameworks, designed to fulfil streamlined architectural principles, the merits of tropical garden design alleviate the impact of our modern outdoor lifestyle. A lush landscape fabric, whatever the garden plot size, often redefines and balances the essence, permanence and well-being of our personal outdoor sanctuaries, when site conditions are optimal. In London's mild microclimate, where clay soil, adequate rainfall and inherent urban structural make-up sustain valuable shelter, tropical gardens thrive and continually reinvent mundane prospects into evocative, immersive and inspiring outdoor canvases.

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1. light 2. ferns 3. water 4. palms 5. foliage 6. cycads 7. tropics 8. jungled 9. burle marx 10. perspective

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1 light

luxuriant london garden

Natural light defines and revitalises outdoor spaces by highlighting three-dimensional qualities and detail nuances; the more layered a garden is in its foliage and sculptural spatial design, the further this sunlight phenomenon accentuates architectural gardens beyond our intended design during daytime. London's low daylight luminosity is often mitigated by utilising glossy foliage plants and light-toned hard landscaping frameworks, and when we infuse tropical foliar stimulus liberally into our capital's private outdoor spaces, we purposefully generate reflecting qualities which enhance biophilic well-being.

tropical canopies

Numerous hierarchical design sequences signify an innate proclivity to produce static, structured layouts, even though residential gardens derive their most reassuring aspects from fluid lush landscapes. The evergreen structures of subtropical and large-leaved tropical floras, intrinsically amplified by heterogeneous genera and beneficially high foliar reflectance, not only generate invigorating settings, but are also highly conducive to immersive outdoor lighting. With an increasing, unrelenting skyglow engulfing our night sky, tropical canopies contain terrestrial garden lighting effectively, and transform familiar daytime surroundings into dynamic, and memorable, silhouetted sceneries.

2 ferns

Ferny, tropical textures provide energising contrast amid smooth foliage surfaces, while true Ferns generate sheer primordial essence with unmistakable silhouettes, distinct aroma and translucent fronds. While scores of esteemed botanists strive to grasp our fronded allies' evolutional merits, shedloads of garden designers perennially relish ferns' indispensability in forming pivotal natural underlayers, as well as towering magnificence constructed by Tree ferns. With more than 60 native UK fern species and thousands winter-hardy, shade-loving genera worldwide, we continually utilise this versatile, filigree, dainty flora as one of the most adaptable and lenient woodland organisms. Tropical ferns manifest their splendour in silky, bold outlines, and while the bulk of these species is tender and wouldn't survive UK's winter temperatures, such delectable vegetation is handily fitting as captivating potted focal points for summer displays.

luxuriant foliage rooftop terrace garden project
tropically designed modern town garden
lush water feature london garden with palm trees

3 water

Our entire ecosystem is dependent on water cycles which sustain Earth's vast verdant lungs, while its natural balance of wooded areas and liquid surfaces preserves our very existence and passion for vital rainforests. While mainstream urban water features mostly reflect a luxurious lifestyle, representing water ownership in a variety of forms, their functionality extends environmental cycles by producing thriving flora amid pivotal humidity, essential wildlife provisions and soothing well-being, enhanced with nurturing light. Since water scarcity defines a long-term, global ecological agenda, tropical garden design factors in temperate climates are at times pigeonholed as unviable. Yet, when a waterfall's design ethos within a private residential garden setting is integrated sensitively into efficient contemporary designs, utilised sympathetically to augment a wholesome approach, its core impetus preserves our instinctive desire to interact with, absorb, and relish, the Tropics' definitive vitality – synchronised both aesthetically and ecologically among contoured, awe-inspiring vegetation.

4 palms

rooftop garden sanctuary

From 20 majestic Palm species lining Eastern Himalaya, to over 2,000 endemic to the Intertropical zone, Arecaceae is a relatively new plant family, which first appeared a mere 80 million years ago. This fresh addition to our planet's leafy landscape represents some of the most beneficial, resilient and ubiquitous flowering plants genera, enabled and nourished by 300 million years of replenishable Cycad, Fern and Moss undergrowth. While the Palm oil industry's short-sightedness undermines significant tropical habitats and their inhabitants alike, fuelled by short-term gains, in our own humble abodes and refined outdoor spaces, these most distinctive of all plant species remain an epic symbol of eternity, freedom and peace. By utilising Tropical palm trees for indoor displays, while integrating winter-hardy, temperate and subtropical palmy species into garden and roof terrace designs, we elevate tediously dull home exteriors with opulent and diversified green footprints, redefined by stately trunks, crowns and leaflets.

contemporary roof terrace palm trees
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spectacular tropical london garden with lighting

5 foliage

South of the equator, plant life's biological synthesis produces the most diverse foliage anatomies, and while some of its species are yet to be discovered, with countless organisms systematically annihilated by humans' profitable absurdity, the charismatic floras which sustain its lifeblood continue to nurture dynamic principles in our modern garden ethos. Since tropical foliage cultivation eludes UK's outdoors, we routinely embrace exotic-looking, winter-hardy greeneries which closely resemble Southern Hemisphere's endemic vegetation, while vitally preserving regional garden design authenticity.

exotic gardens

We integrate Asarum splendens, the Chinese wild ginger, to emulate the seductive foliage patterns of tender Anthurium and Arum lilies; include Trachycarpus wagnerianus from the Japanese archipelago to construct focal points which mimic a Bahamas Sabal palm; and plant out drifts of luscious Canna to echo the striking elegance of Alpinias or Heliconias. Yet, lavish Canna cultivars originate predominantly in temperate zones, similarly to a myriad of comparable tropical species, and the motives behind this horticultural proliferation are invariably threefold – defined by economic lifestyles, outdoor trends and pure bliss derived from cultivating such broad foliage spectra rewardingly.

6 cycads

While Cycads began to evolve shortly after Ferns, around 300 million years ago, their prevalence within the natural world has considerably declined, whereas Ferns have been maintaining a flourishing presence alongside emergent Palm trees. With only 350 Cycad species identified to date, predominantly slow-growing, and carelessly undermined by intensive deforestation, the only good thing going for a Cycad these days is garden design adulation. Long-lived, sculptural and evocative of our primordial humble beginnings, Cycas revoluta, the King sago from Southern Japan, thrives when given ample shelter, adequate drainage and energising sunshine. Since the colossal warm-blooded reptiles which consumed Cycads fervently are long gone, replaced by more delicate domesticated creatures, do keep your pets safe and sound by avoiding contact with these poisonous, living statues.

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designer garden tropics ambience city project

7 tropics

The Amazon rainforest's phenomenal energy nourishes the most ecologically biodiverse region on Planet Earth, sustaining nearly 30 percent of all known living species. While the world's largest online retailer bears the name of our planet's longest river, and continues to expand at unequivocal rate, the body of water and surrounding land named in its brand logo deteriorate irretrievably, alongside the poor sovereign state which governs them. Mankind's unsustainable way of life, plainly manifested in lack of fair cohesive education systems and mightily illogical economies, defines our consequential leadership shortfall, while exacerbated by prevailing intellectual ignorance.

climate change

When recurring drought devastates arable land and rainforests alike, we rush and bow to its destructive powers, and illogically modify our intents. While floods destroy vast communities and their protective afforested terrains indiscriminately, countless crowds rapidly succumb to water's inevitable course and hurry to alter aquatic strategies. This poignant, fragile reality denotes a global civilisation impenitently and chronically hindered by bureaucratic disparities which outweigh the much-needed responsibility to elucidate the causes and effects of climate change, while its current fragmentary blueprint required to manage our lives amid a future outcome remains unresolved.

eco-friendly mindset

A 250-year human carbon footprint had left an unbridgeable, unyielding sombre chasm. Contemporary garden design, as a pivotal discipline within landscape architecture, ought to diverge from patent insular philosophies which drastically hinder its role, and sustain a multitude of diverse, eco-friendly mindsets. At a time when genius loci takes entirely new connotations, portraying altered geographies, artificial intelligence and deprived communities, we should strive to represent the Tropics throughout our gardens for their immeasurable merits, while responsibly preserving and safeguarding their future.

8 jungled

Will Giles, who passed away at the age of 64 in late summer 2015, was an avid plant collector, artist, photographer, writer and above all, a self-taught contemporary master of tropical garden design. From his home and garden in Central Norwich, East Anglia, Mr Giles spent over three decades designing, experimenting and opening his exuberant exotic garden to the public, within a seemingly unexpected location. The success of his authentic, firsthand garden design story, and the audiences whose minds it inspired, express our ongoing fervour of skilfully crafted, multi-sensory, tropical garden landscapes.

jungle-like gardens

Will Giles's lifelong journey into urban jungly terrain endorses the inherent sculptural beauty, pertinence and biodiversity of tropical plant life, amid a prevalent garden design predisposition to produce increasingly sparse, low maintenance and drought-tolerant gardens. The liberating horticultural aspect, design creativity and invigorating luscious ambience of such a compelling gardening mindset ought to freely permeate overly gravelly strictness which encumbers diverse garden design disciplines en masse; not only to educate young ones, but also since sometimes, we'd just simply rather be jungled!

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exquisite subtropical lush back garden london
modern landscape designer pioneer
burle marx

9 burle marx

The gardens of Roberto Burle Marx embody the freedom of a painter and thoughtfulness of a plant conservationist, amid sheer Brazilian exuberance and zest for life. Burle Marx's landscape canvases depict 20th-century abstract art, signified by prevalent European Minimalism and American Modernism, which wholly redefined architectural garden design, and endured their substance unwaveringly – permeating each and every universal aspect of modern life. From Copacabana's iconic seaside promenade in Rio de Janeiro to his sprawling rooftop garden reinventions softening government buildings, city centre revivals and honorary awards by every eminent, international design institute and botanical garden, Burle Marx's 60-year career remains unsurpassed in its pioneering vision, diverse canon and long-lasting legacy.

rainforest conservation

Burle Marx's Sitio de Santo Antonio da Bica signifies 35 years of rainforest conservation, leaving behind a legacy not only marked by 50 new plant species and thousands of paintings and gardens, but also by the ensuing diversified landscape disciplines as we know them nowadays. While for many of us, the Tropics' mystique imbues much-loved holiday and exploratory travel destinations, we owe it all to this one lovable man, who single-handedly reshaped our design approaches, while nurturing widespread perception and appreciation of the Tropics' enchanting beauty and crucial ecological balance.

10 perspective

sustainable gardens

Sustainability, at its best, refines a collective insight into our own existence as the sole species which fabricates unnatural resources to segregate itself within a discriminatory, non-renewable vacuum. Yet, in its most unideal state, renewability forms a myriad of scientific uncertainties, academic ambiguity and colossal social disparity. This 21st-century paradigm exists in constant unfavourable conditions, amid wide-ranging disbelief, educational misguidance and an innate human inability to step back and alter its rational thought process.

equatorial equilibrium

Landscape design forms the most expressive, tangible and valuable architectural multidiscipline, mitigating some of the generational gaps associated with our global energy conundrum by inherently promoting ethical design practices which endorse viable core solutions. While we customarily resort to water conservation as the be-all and end-all of sustainable modern living across disparate garden design scales, we dilute essential recollections of a once truly fluid, diverse landscape. The dismal inevitability of a drier, energy deprived future jeopardises the emblematic spirit of tropical garden design, when entire coastal landscapes marred with unsightly, albeit necessary, wind farms, and lush gardens compressed into spiky compartments cannot reconcile this earthly deficit – neither affectively, spiritually or subliminally.

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– coda –

Southern Tropic Energy

Tropical gardens effortlessly soften built geometries across both classic and modern architectural design layouts, while expressing our innate relationship, reliance upon and close affinity with the natural world. Our profound understanding of nature's organic and versatile process transcends the jungle ambiences of Amazonian rainforests, Caribbean archipelagos and Southeast Asian peninsulas to permeate every layer of ecological consciousness, botanical insight, personal outdoors and, undoubtedly, our very own garden design portfolio. Indeed, the Southern Tropic's immersive, mesmeric aura hovers a blissful terrestrial paradise, and evokes universal awareness of its vast ecosystem's decay, growth and renewal – a notion intrinsically preserved within a timeless tropical garden design ethos.