The jun­gle path

A cairns cou­ple cre­ates a trop­i­cal cor­nu­copia

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - LIFE - he­len Young

They say the climate here is nine months of heaven and three months of hell,” Mark Vowles laughs. “But we revel in it.” He and wife Fair­lie Kerr live 10 min­utes from Cairns, where their tal­ents have found ex­pres­sion in their own trop­i­cal par­adise.

Vowles is a land­scape de­signer and ca­reer hor­ti­cul­tur­ist with a love of plants, espe­cially those from the trop­ics. Kerr is an in­te­rior de­signer with an in­stinct for colour. The cou­ple, now in their fifties, moved from Bris­bane in 2009 to pur­chase their 1400-square-me­tre prop­erty, ful­fill­ing a five-year plan.

“We’d of­ten come up to see rare plants,” says Vowles. “Cairns is a mag­net for trop­i­cal-plant col­lec­tors; it has a per­fect climate for grow­ing things that you can’t get any­where else in Aus­tralia. We both love the bizarre mix of steamy, jun­gle-like sum­mers and sunny win­ters.”

Their block in the rain­forested

foothills of the Whit­field range came with some good trees, in­clud­ing ly­chee, mango and the highly per­fumed ylang-ylang ( Canan­gra odor­ata), renowned for its use in high-end per­fumery. In de­sign­ing their new gar­den, both ad­hered to their be­lief that gar­den­ing is an art and ap­plied their re­spec­tive skills to cre­ate a con­tem­po­rary trop­i­cal set­ting that sets the bar high.

“It’s a fo­liage driven gar­den,” says Vowles of the palms, aroids and cordy­lines he loves. There are rare palms, un­usual bam­boos and sought-af­ter bromeli­ads. Flashes of colour come from the flowers of he­li­co­nias, an­thuri­ums and gin­gers, but much of the suc­cess is down to how the plants are ar­ranged.

“Groups of vis­ually sim­i­lar plants are more strik­ing than in­di­vid­ual spec­i­mens,” he ex­plains. “A mass plant­ing of bromeli­ads can be likened to a coral reef, with its form and colour.” Good de­sign also means in­sert­ing in­ter­est­ing fo­cal points, such as art pieces, while wa­ter fea­tures cre­ate places to pause and con­tem­plate, re­flect light and gen­er­ate pleas­ing sounds.

“I use the gar­den as a bit of a lab­o­ra­tory, espe­cially to trial new plants that not many peo­ple know about,” says Vowles. He en­thuses over An­thurium sal­gar­ense (“it has leaves the size of a Volk­swa­gen”), and the equally colos­sal Jo­hannestei­js­man­nia al­tifrons, known as Joey palm.

Kerr chose the par­tic­u­lar inky colour of their house to cre­ate a com­ple­men­tary back­ground for the colour­ful, trop­i­cal fo­liage (it’s Bris­tol Mid­sum­mer Night for the record). The rasp­berry-red gar­den seat, set at a van­tage point on the hill, is another in­spired choice.

To­gether they de­signed the bed-and-break­fast stu­dio and its in­door-out­door bath­room that im­merses guests in the gar­den. From its deck it’s a short walk to the al­mond-shaped plunge pool and an el­e­vated sit­ting area.

The cou­ple shares an of­fice on the prop­erty for their re­spec­tive busi­nesses and oc­ca­sion­ally get to col­lab­o­rate. “There’s such a cross­over be­tween in­te­rior de­sign and gar­den de­sign – we re­ally bounce off each other,” says Vowles.

Pho­tog­ra­phy Kim Woods Rab­bidge

Pops: bam­boo, big leaves, rasp­berry bench and he­li­co­nia, left

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