‘Tropical Breeze’ has been a labour of love for Helen Curran for many years. Tucked away in north-western Sydney, it is an oasis of both calm and tropical abundance where neighbours and a busy road outside seem far away. And also this area’s climate is not at all tropical – in summer it’s hot and dry and will often hit over 40 degrees C, and in winter it can have many frosty nights. So how has Helen created this remarkable garden?
First is the need to create canopy, and many quick-growing palms were planted to establish the dappled shade usually favoured by tropical and subtropical plants. Now, Helen and Neil are gradually thinning this palm canopy, planting beautiful flowering tropical trees instead.
Second is the exclusion of the cold air that slides down into hollows during winter nights. Spreading, leafy shrubs, close planting and never cutting plants back before warmer spring weather helps them all through the winter.
Third – to create the illusion of a tropical oasis, you need to disguise your boundaries with thick planting and fence-hiding screens.
Fourth, and this is something that Helen has developed over the years as she’s experimented with hundreds of plants, is making plant pictures. Although she knows and loves each one of her plants for itself, Helen never loses sight of the all-important way that they combine, putting together forms, colours and leaf textures to make wonderful pictures.
Fifth – Helen knows that to hold interest in a garden, you need to have both ‘big picture’ wow, and small details as you move about. Everywhere you look, there are small plants that, when examined at close quarters, seem as if they’ve been hand-decorated. Do you know many suburban gardens that hold well over an hour of interest?
Sixth – Helen and Neil use the exquisite, fine detail of top quality Balinese carving to embellish their garden. The white stone is the ideal contrast to both richly coloured foliage and dappled shade.
Lastly, Helen is willing to take risks with her plant choices. Many of her latest favourites have come from nurseries in truly tropical Darwin. She is constantly surprised at people who say you can’t grow tropical plants in Sydney. Tough Darwin-bred plants get through both a long dry and a long wet season and, if you’ve created a good microclimate for them, they are quite likely to succeed.
Apart from bromeliads, cordylines, coleus and crotons, many of Helen’s favourite plants come from the Acanthaceae family, including Graptophyllum, Justicia, Strobilanthes, Hypoestes, Hemigraphis, Crossandra, Ruellia, Pseudoantherum, Fittonia, Megaskepasma, Barleria and Brillantasia.
Click on any photo to see a larger image slideshow. You can also click the photos in the slideshow (top right corner) to see a full-size version.