Real gardens: tiny tropical courtyard
Discover how one reader transformed a barren, basement courtyard, into a tropical hideaway
The tiny 5mx5.5m basement courtyard was a depressingly bare space when Juan Carlos Cure moved into his London home. And the large glass doors meant the view of the unloved outside area dominated his living room and kitchen too. Undeterred by the small size and shady conditions, Juan set about creating a tropical hideaway. By covering the boundaries in plants, and layering different sizes and shapes of foliage, he has created a garden that looks gorgeous from indoors and outdoors. He has also made the space look far larger than it really is.
You can visit Juan Carlos Cure's garden through the National Garden Scheme, find out more below. And you can watch this short video of Juan Carlos Cure's garden, featured on BBC Gardeners' World.
What was the garden like when you moved in?
It was a boring paved patio with no planting whatsoever. Three sides of the patio had a narrow bed of compacted clay and a bare wooden fence. I wanted to create a space that had an impact when viewed from inside.
How have you transformed the garden?
First, I covered the fences with climbers in order to soften the boundaries, which were yelling at me 'the garden ends here' . By greening the boundaries, it's less obvious where my garden ends and the neighbours' gardens begin, and I managed to make the garden look bigger. By layering plants at different heights, I wanted to create a sense of rhythm, with colours and textures, particularly foliage, as it’s rather a shady garden.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Because the garden is in a lower-ground floor, which was carved out by the developer, the soil was mainly compacted London clay and the water table was just a few centimetres below ground level. The solution was to build a steel frame around the bed, to create a raised bed around 30cm high, which I filled with good quality soil, with good drainage. Also, the garden gets very little sun for half of the year, so I needed to select plants that would thrive in shade and in damp conditions.
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What have been the biggest successes?
The garden has matured nicely and looks natural and much bigger than it really is. Also, unexpectedly, it is loved by the community and brings visitors as part of the National Garden Scheme, which raises funds for charity.
What do you love about the garden?
I love the fact that it is a refuge for both me and wildlife alike. During lockdown it was one of my most important lifelines.
Is there anything you’d change?
Not really. I’m constantly experimenting and tweaking, but the space is quite limited so there’s only so much I can do. If anything, I’d just like to get a slightly bigger garden and have a wildlife pond and boggy area, and more room to experiment.
Juan Carlos Cure plans to open his garden through the National Garden Scheme later this summer, restrictions permitting. Find more details about booking a visit, and check the latest restrictions.
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