Gardens Illustrated
Declan Buckley garden
© Rachel Warne

Memories of Kerala in a London garden

Published: August 24, 2022 at 12:30 pm
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In this Islington garden, designer Declan Buckley has used lush, jungle-style planting to remind his clients of their childhoods in Kerala. Words Natasha Goodfellow Photographs Rachel Warne

When designer Declan Buckley first saw this garden, it was nothing more than a patch of grass backing on to a line of Cupressocyparis x leylandii in the neighbouring plot – in this case a welcome feature, since the house refurbishment featured a lot of glazing and the trees afforded some privacy.

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The extensive use of glass also means that the garden is the first thing you see when entering the house, so Declan has layered his planting from the ground up, creating a lush, dense understorey and using taller plants for scale and seclusion. Most are evergreen to ensure year-round interest, all are hardy for minimal maintenance, and together they conjure that Rousseau-esque feel Declan loves. “For a low-maintenance garden, it’s about as exotic looking as you can get in the UK,” he says.

KEY ELEMENTS

What Urban residential garden.

Where Islington, London.

Size 10m x 14m.

Soil Improved London clay with better-than-average drainage.

Aspect West-facing.

Special features Layered, sub-tropical style planting with a range of textured foliage.

Designed by Declan Buckley, buckleydesignassociates.com

Texture, rather than colour, is the star here, with contrasts of foliage and scale used to great effect. Tiny, smooth-leaved Soleirolia soleirolii is used as an edging plant, scrambling out across the porcelain steps and pebble pathway and softening the underlying geometry. At the other end of the scale are the huge, palmate leaves of Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’, repeat planted throughout the space, and a fast-growing Paulownia tree, positioned so that its lilac flowers in spring shine out against the leylandii.

Declan Buckley garden
© Rachel Warne

Elsewhere, the chocolatey hue of feathery Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’ is echoed in the bespoke steel water feature and in the quite extraordinary plant that is Pseudopanax crassifolius – a tall, almost leafless trunk with slender, drooping leaves. Schefflera and Fatsia polycarpa (more delicate than Fatsia japonica) add height without taking the light, and a row of Phyllostachys bissetii has been planted at the rear as a precautionary measure, “just in case the leylandii are ever cut down,” says Declan.

The garden was only planted in 2018 but already it looks mature. Both Declan and his clients are thrilled with the growth rate and the way the textures and forms have grown together.

Declan Buckley garden
© Rachel Warne

Declan has used layering to great effect with Soleirolia soleirolii as groundcover, a mid-layer of Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’ and Chamaerops humilis, along with shrubs and small trees including Euphorbia mellifera.

Declan Buckley garden
© Rachel Warne

The planting provides a verdant, mainly evergreen, backdrop to the house, in full view of the kitchen.

Declan Buckley garden
© Rachel Warne

The steel water feature is fringed with Zantedeschia aethiopica, young tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) yet to develop trunks, and a Hydrangea seemanii, an evergreen climber. A clump of evergreen bamboo (Phyllostachys bissetii) adds to the tropical feel.

Declan Buckley garden
© Rachel Warne

The density of the planting on the upper level is interrupted only by the sinuous gravel path. The contrast of leaf shapes works particularly well: the huge palmate leaves of Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ against the feathery Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’ and the tall, slender Pseudopanax crassifolius with its drooping foliage. To the rear, the fresh green leaves of Musa basjoo (which resembles the edible bananas found in warmer climes) can just be seen, along with a foxglove tree (Paulownia tomentosa), which bears lilac flowers in spring.

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Authors

Natasha is a writer and editor who contributes regularly to publications including Gardens Illustrated, Elle Decoration and Country Life, among others. She also writes and produces illustrated maps and guides for garden lovers via her company, Finch Publishing.

Rachel Warne specialises in botanical and outdoor living photography and works with all the major garden and lifestyle magazines. She works closely with floral installation artist Rebecca Louise and her photographs can be found in the book Tulips, written by Jane Eastoe.

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