Hotel lobby guests enjoy a coffee in a lush, tropical garden atmosphere.
Hotel lobby guests enjoy a coffee in a lush, tropical garden atmosphere. Photo Contributed

Tropical Canberra? Atrium garden an inspiration

I'M SITTING here enjoying a morning coffee in a lush, tropical garden. I do find myself taking time out in garden settings whenever I can, so there is nothing unusual about this, and I usually wouldn't mention it. But this time it's a bit odd, because I'm in a hotel lobby. In Canberra.

It's an atrium, really, in the centre of the hotel. The roof is white, and my guess is that it provides about 50%-80% shade. It's bright and airy. It must be heated in winter or most of the plants in here would not survive Canberra's bitter cold.

The gardens are created using a combination of large, round planters as well as ground-level plantings. The planters are constructed of what looks like a roughish concrete, painted a rich charcoal colour to complement the dark grey stone-effect floor tiles. The jungle effect is amplified by mass plantings on the surrounding upper levels.

As a gardener, I'm always interested in observing how plants are used, how they perform in different conditions, what works well together.

Here, the upper storey is provided by several different types of palms, and a couple of bunya pines. There are some magnificent clumps of rhapis palms - the largest is about four metres tall and two metres wide. It fills one of the large raised beds, and is just beautiful in its simplicity.

There are also some kentia palms and a couple of giant strelitzia. There is what looks like a very tall bangalow palm in one of the beds, but I fear its time here is limited because it has almost reached the roof.

In the middle storey there are smaller palms as well as a few tree ferns, some small fiddle leaf figs, strelitzia reginae (bird of paradise), philodendron Xanadu, ctenanthe, aglonoemas, and the broad, deep green leaves of dracaena Janet Craig.

Groundcovers include ficus pumila (creeping fig), pothos, and, the biggest surprise, tradescantia. You probably know it as wandering jew (a dreadful name), that plant that we gardeners in tropical and sub-tropical gardens view as a terrible weed. Here, it looks just gorgeous.

This is very much a foliage garden, but it is by no means boring, thanks to plenty of variation in foliage texture and colour, as well as form and growth habit. The colour scheme is quite muted, relying primarily on different shades of green, with some accents provided by variegation.

It's easy to get seduced by the beauty of flowers, and build gardens that rely on them. But this garden demonstrates how showcasing foliage can create a garden that is interesting all year, not just for the few months that a plant is in flower.

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