How to transform a tough, urban space into a languorous jungle


But this is no mish-mash. The beauty of this courtyard stems from the considered way in which everything is arranged. Plants are grouped in eclectic, leafy layers to highlight shifts in texture, form and colour. They hang from the ceiling and encroach over the ground. They are staggered at every level thanks to platforms that McLean has constructed from recycled roof trusses, Besser blocks and whatever else has been to hand.

Weathered walls and variegated leavesCredit:Annabel Reid

While Marcou, McLean and a rotating line-up of passing-through musicians, sound engineers and tech staff have all helped tend the plants over the years, at various times visual artists have also been employed to provide more consistent care.

But two months ago, Marcou and McLean employed their first fully fledged horticulturalist. Jo Franklin, who works in the courtyard about five hours each week, is also a musician who has been rehearsing at these studios since they started and has similar ideas to Marcou and McLean about how the garden should feel.

“We don’t want it to feel corporatised tech,” Marcou says.

McLean says they wanted to create the feel of a jungle “so that after you have been in a studio rehearsing for six hours, you come out into nature”.

“We also want to enjoy going to work. People say, ‘why do you spend so much time on a building you don’t own?’ But more than 20 years later, if we hadn’t invested in it, we wouldn’t have got all that passion back.”

Plants are staggered at every level

Plants are staggered at every levelCredit:Annabel Reid

Franklin, who runs her own horticultural business, says that as soon as Marcou and McLean approached her about taking charge of the courtyard, she was up for it.

“I have always loved this place,” Franklin says. “I have watched the garden taking its form and I have also watched how everyone responds to it.”

Increasingly, musicians have used the plants as a backdrop for band photos, film clips and social media posts.

Franklin began by topping up the potting mix in each container and adding a slow release organic fertiliser. She moved some of the plants around to ensure they were getting adequate sunshine – while most of the courtyard gets good light, some areas are still shadier than others – and she finessed watering regimes.

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Too much water can be as damaging as too little and not every plant in this garden has the same water requirements. Franklin adjusts the watering not just according to the plant but also its placement because anything in a hanging basket dries out faster than if it was in a large pot on the ground. She says the plants growing on an upstairs walkway also need extra irrigation because of their exposure to wind.

Finally, Franklin has been trimming and editing, including cutting down on some plants, Agave attenuata, for instance, that she thought had been over-used. While she has opened up some spaces, she has added new layers in others, such as by attaching tillandsias (taken from her own garden) to strelizia stems.

But the most beguiling thing about this space is you don’t immediately sense the work involved. Everything about it feels almost incidentally wondrous and isn’t that what we all want from our gardens?

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