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Terrace garden: it’s a jungle out there

by Rhiannon James

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A balcony jungle visited by squawking exotic birds might seem more likely in Singapore than Sydenham but designer Virginia Armstrong has created just such a slice of the tropics outside her 1960s house in south London, and given it all the retro chic of the island scenes in Dr No.

Big leaves, vibrant colour and even visiting ring-necked parakeets, tempted to the terrace by feeders, create the effect. “I didn’t want the balcony to look pretty, I wanted it to look dramatic,” says Virginia, who is the creative force behind Roddy & Ginger – a range of vintage-inspired textiles and prints.

Each element on the balcony has been chosen to suit the exotic look and the house’s sixties style. Virginia replaced concrete tiles with dark wood decking to match the hardwood balustrade and screen, and added furniture with a retro feel. The containers have also been carefully selected. “I’m very particular about pots and I wanted them to be concrete or black metal or white to suit the house,” she says.

It’s the plants though which really create the jungle mood. The big sword-like leaves of phormium and crocosmia mingle with the spear heads of hostas, bamboo and clematis to create a look that’s much lusher and richer than you might expect from a small group of pots.

The overall effect is striking and makes the balcony a perfect complement to the living room which, decorated in similar shades and mid-century modern style, looks on to it through huge picture windows.

Although Virginia also has a garden, not to mention half an allotment down the road, the balcony trumps both when it comes to sitting back and enjoying the sunset from one of the highest spots in south London. In summer, there are the majestic trees of Dulwich Wood (a remnant of an ancient forest that once covered much of south London) to gaze at. And when the cold winds of winter sweep back their leaves, there’s a spectacular view to Battersea Power Station and beyond.

The terrace also has plenty of practical benefits according to Virginia. “We’re constantly battling bindweed in the garden. I love balcony gardening because it’s much easier to keep control,” she says. Pests rarely bother with such an inaccessible place so the hostas, which were shredded by snails in the garden, are thriving. Using large containers has also helped to make the balcony very low maintenance, Virginia says. “Some people have lots of small pots and you’re in trouble then because you’ve got to water them all. If you have fewer, larger pots, the plants can mostly look after themselves,” she says. And that leaves much more time to enjoy a few sundowners on the deck.

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