Making a Tropical Garden

The house had a large expanse of grass ringed by high, bruised-green walls, and a handful of neglected perimeter trees.

A blank canvas inviting me to paint and sculpt a tropical garden of my own (within the bounds of a rental, of course!).  First, the easy things:  drawing a long sinuous bed on the sunny side, sourcing some large specimens, painting boundary walls, hooking up some lights – and getting down to the digging.  It’s in this process that I named my new home:  Gal Katayam – after the barrow-loads of kabuk, the spongy red rock so typical of Sri Lanka, that I found in the process.

Next, the shady side.  Try to trim that feral mango tree, build up some beds …

Ooops – remedial work required:  the plumbing for the pool is inadequate in tropical downpours – we need large new pipes and an overflow device, and a little dry creek bed for the run off, I think  …

A fernery along the side wall – marvellous fun, acceding to The Girls

Oh, and a front door mat, I think, to capture some of that gritty gravel from incessant puppy traffic

Making a Garden b

After a year – a full progression of the sun – I’ve had to admit the ‘shady spot’ under the fluffy little tree isn’t working.  The umbrella canopy does provide dense shade, but in that tropical heat it’s like a sauna, under there, and worse – a haven for mosquitos.  So began the final phase – turning the little tree into a coat-hanger for a flaming Bougainvillea, and a herbaceous border instead of the shady void – bisected by a pathway down to the compost bins.

In April, the lovely Asala (Cassia fistula) adds its glory to my garden – the blessing of a borrowed tree from beyond the boundary wall! Making a Garden - borrowed treesMaking a Garden 28

This (bitter-sweet) little trip down memory lane was prompted by Ailsa’s Garden Travel Theme for this week.

36 thoughts on “Making a Tropical Garden

  1. What a wonderful post, and memory for you of a place you loved. I cannot believe the amount of work you put in on a rental..I hope the owners gave you some recompense for all of this beauty you added. I must admit I do the same when it comes to a garden in homes we rent…expense be damned when it comes to my garden. Do you have some photos of your Sri Lanka home framed and on walls of your new place?

  2. Oh, my goodness! What a beautiful transformation. Oh, how I would love to be able to have a real tropical garden! I loved every stone and every leaf in these pictures, Meredith! I know it was hard to leave there. My mother said that an old woman who lived on their farm told her once that she planted small fruit trees wherever she went. She would never live to enjoy the fruit, but somebody would. Mother never forgot that. Neither have I. You created such a beautiful home there. Where do you live now? When did you leave this house? I must not be much of a follower, huh? 🙂 I enjoyed this post as much as any post I ever read, Meredith. Thank you!

  3. Such a labour of love, you creative gardener you! It looks so beautiful I can’t imagine how you could leave for boring old Australia … thanks for showing us all this wonder and brilliance … love the drainage pool especially!

  4. That’s a lot of thought and effort invested there. I hope whoever has inherited it from you will take care of it and enjoy it as much as you so clearly did. How lush everything looks.

  5. yes, we put our hearts into our gardens, don’t we? … then we move on just when they’ve reached maturity.
    the cassia added a lovely splash of colorful lightness = thank goodness for neighbors who value color!

    feral mango! i laughed. yes, they provide fruit and dense shade, but wow, you nailed it – feral!

    the good thing about moving on it that we embrace new projects and slowly put soul into another generic pad of earth!

    i’m so glad that i was able to see this post!


  6. This is a wonderful and beautiful transformation. It has to be rewarding living in a place where it can be enjoyed all year. My cousin has a tropical garden on St. Lucia, and I was amazed how little the seasons change and plants bloom year round.

  7. Such a wonderful transformation, Meredith — and so much work to get it there. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be able to plan and create a tropical garden, one where there’s no fear of frost or snow. I think I’d find the vast variety of plants to be so confusing as to be paralyzing. I’m not used to that kind of choice! 🙂
    Thank you taking us along on your trip down Memory Lane.

  8. Beautiful post… I could feel the love, and the bittersweet. When I think of my old house, it’s only the garden. One of my favorite things to do is wander through peoples gardens, and peruse their bookshelves. Thank you for sharing this with us. It was special.

  9. What a fantastic post, and congratulations on all the hard work. It was great that you were able to keep a photo journal of the making of the garden.

  10. Even I miss your lovely home after seeing this. I can picture you wandering around there with The Girls. It certainly was your little piece of heaven on earth. I hope you are able to create a beautiful spot for yourself in your new place.

  11. That is stunning work! And far more than I would ever dare take on for my own home, let alone a rental! As others have said, I hope the owners and new tenants continue to care for it and nurture it as you did. Making the world more beautiful is a wonderful act.

  12. Seems like you had a great time planning your corner of paradise! And what terrific results! I love the terracotta pots interspersed around the garden, and the semicircular ‘moonstone’ paving near the enntrance! Was that deliberate?

    • Can you believe it, I shipped them all over from Oz – everything bar the old mower, it seems! The moonstone is a rip off from Geoffrey Bawa’s Colombo home – when I saw it I just knew one day I’d get the chance to do something like that and the transition from the driveway cum path directly onto the veranda seemed perfect. I had such fun, even when The Girls got too boisterous in the new plantings, or the escapee monkey came by and crash landed in the new trees … 🙂

      • I can imagine. Gardens become part of us somehow. I was touched that you poured so much of yourself into a garden that you knew you’d have to leave one day. That’s how everybody should live. My mother told me about an old woman who lived on their farm when she was growing up. The woman said she planted fruit trees wherever she lived although she knew she might never be there to enjoy the fruit. Somebody would enjoy it, she said. I never forgot!

        • It’s inherited, George. My father was like the farmer’s wife. One of the saddest things I ever heard him say was that he wouldn’t be planting any more acorns – I knew then that he knew time was running out for him.

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