A Tropical Brisbane Garden Wonderland

Nostalgia is a driving force in the garden. The flowers we grew up with, the landscapes we called home, the colours that remind us of childhood. It’s these elements we consciously and unconsciously incorporate into our gardens and living spaces. They’re the the things that make us feel most at home. Artist Sebastian Di Mauro knows this well. He’s created a glorious tropical garden evoking the colours and vibrancy of his childhood in North Queensland on a quiet suburban street in Brisbane.

‘It’s a bit insane, trying to create a tropical garden in semi-tropical Southeast Queensland. Sometimes things grow and sometimes they don’t. You just have to be patient, and if it doesn’t work, take it out and replace it with something else,’ he explains of his gardening philosophy.

Sebastian has lived at the Kelvin Grove property he shares with his partner Dennis Chandler for 30 years. ‘The garden has taken 30 years. I mean, the soil is terrible.’ I have to say, it doesn’t look it. Sebastian’s garden is lush and full and vibrant. Bromeliads line the entry pathway, palm trees dripping with orchids and epiphytes cluster in the front garden and lush greenery abounds in the back. It’s so full, there’s no chance for weeds to get their roots down…

It’s an easy maintenance garden. I don’t have plants that need a lot of attention really. I can just ignore them. And then I can spend time just tidying up.’

Sebastian’s aesthetic sensibility is reflected in his house and garden. It’s all about colour and order. Whilst on the surface, the garden looks wild and chaotic, it’s actually very well organised, neat even. Colours are complimentary, and are offset by the white and pastel blue painted timber framework of his gorgeous Queenslander house (which is incredible, by the way. I am still dreaming of his apple-green painted living room).

‘I’m not fussy at all about plants. Initially, when I started the garden I thought I’ll just have all natives and then I just got so obsessed with plants I couldn’t stand to just have natives because there’s such a variety of palms. So now there’s some exotics and there’s some natives,’ he says. ‘We’ve even put in some succulents, I mean, that’s madness.  We’ve got tropical with succulents, but we love it!

The garden is an important part of Sebastian’s art practice. He did his PhD on migrant Italian gardens, and often creates work specifically about the garden. ‘The garden definitely feeds my output. It goes both ways, I guess. My art work responds to the garden but I often put my work back in the garden. I photograph a lot of my work in a garden setting.’ Tucked into the lush green of the rear garden is one of Sebastian’s artworks – an artificial turf form nestled amongst palm foliage. This material is one Sebastian uses often – exploring/reflecting the belief of many migrants that the grass is greener somewhere other than here.

Sebastian and Dennis both enjoy working in the garden. Like Sebastian, Dennis wanted to incorporate something of his background into the space. ‘He did and try and grow some things from home. He tried growing hydrangeas, he loves them but they just didn’t survive, I would say he lost around 50 of them! He’s accepted it now, but still gets a bit frustrated when he sees them growing elsewhere.’

This garden is loved. Seriously loved. Sebastian is always adding new plants, moving things around, and Dennis walks around it every morning, without fail. Dennis works in it, or Sebastian works in it, and things are neatened, ordered, divided and nurtured. House and garden work together beautifully – the old Queenslander being engulfed by lush green foliage. It’s a great garden. ‘We just love it.’

This post was produced with support from Brookfield Garden Centre. Check out their WEBSITE / FACEBOOK / INSTAGRAM or visit in person (whilst you’re there, check out Wild Canary Bistro – the food is delicious!)

Brookfield Garden Centre, 2371 Moggill Road, Brookfield, Queensland.