Peering out the window of his tree-house style home in Coconut Grove, Fla., one of America’s foremost landscape architects, Raymond Jungles, watches birds and the occasional squirrel dart through leafy treetops.
Sunset is beginning to cast its subdued light, and Jungles wouldn’t trade this golden glimpse of nature for anything. “It makes me happy; it makes me feel peaceful,” he says wistfully. “The light right now is beautiful.” Jungles – perhaps the most aptly named person ever in his profession – has carved a bold niche in landscape design that melds perfectly with his long-held and highly personal principles.
His residential and commercial landscapes, scattered throughout tropical and subtropical locations around the world, have a lush, layered wildness that often emanates from the controlled chaos of deep, dense jungle.
In the Raymond Jungles book of contemporary landscape design, pruning shears and edge cutters are cast aside for natural plant forms flaunting rich colors and elaborate shapes.
“I plant my gardens based on the plants’ ultimate growth characteristics and cultural requirements,” he says. “Layers and different volumes create different scale relationships. You can make the design a lot more lush and beautiful because you’re not pruning all the time. It’s a little hands-off.”
Establishing a live-and-let-live spirit doesn’t mean the work is easy, even for this multi-award-winning designer. One of Jungles’ recent projects – the landscape design for a private residence at Baker’s Bay Golf & Ocean Club in the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas – presented daunting challenges despite its dreamy tropical setting.
“It was a very tough site,” Jungles says of the home, a ravishing island retreat for a California couple, their children and grandchildren. “There’s a lot of wind and salt in the air as well as a lot of sand,” he adds.
Each garden at the Baker’s Bay home showcases mostly native plantings to compliment the spectacular beachside setting
Designed in the Anglo-Caribbean style by Scott Merrill of Merrill, Pastor & Colgan Architects, based in Vero Beach, Fla., the house presented itself to Jungles as “a blank canvas.” Its sandy soil was dotted with coppice and interspersed with coconut palms, strangler fig and gumbo limbo trees.
These challenges ultimately gave way to the finished home’s stately presence. Its deep coral exterior and elegant air contrast perfectly with the blue sky, ocean water and flowering plants of the Bahamas.
The home’s location on Great Guana Cay, at the edge of a 20-foot dune, gives the owners privacy without marring the breathtaking ocean views. “The beach is spectacular,” Jungles says.
The family loves color and asked renowned colorist Donald Kaufman to custom mix the exterior paint. Plantings closest to the house are flowering varieties, including bougainvillea, pink muhly grass and Crown of Thorns in shades of salmon, pink and purple. “The house has a strong presence, so any color should rightly extend into the landscape,”
Jungles says. Jungles also softened the property’s formality with several deft moves, such as laying a flagstone walkway between the house and guesthouse. “We tried to make it a little more relaxed,” he explains.
Two gardens are sited carefully to avoid high winds (the property has already withstood two hurricanes). The gated entrance garden greets visitors with a water feature – a basin formed with local stone and planted with water lilies.
Another garden, the more substantial pool garden, is sited between the main house and guesthouse. Both gardens showcase mostly native plants with quirky names like Jamaican Caper, Pigeon Plum, Bay Rum and Blanket Flower. Others are more familiar plants, such as sea lavender, spider lily and agave.
With the home’s main living level elevated on the second floor and complemented by an airy porch, the family can enjoy lovely views of all the garden spaces.
Baker’s Bay is a family-oriented private resort, and the homeowners wanted to create their own traditions: their grandchildren enjoying the beach; friends and family admiring ocean views from the hot tub; and everyone gathered around the swimming pool.
The pool is lined with large coconut palms and pots of blooming Crown of Thorns, with a covered loggia nearby. The owners also wanted gardens, Jungles says, “that looked like they had been there for a while.”
They came to the right person. Jungles’ many professional accolades include a 2014 national award from the American Society of Landscape Architects for Sky Garden, a unique and exciting residential rooftop garden in Miami Beach, Fla.
His work has been covered widely by publications such as Architectural Digest and the New York Times, and Jungles’ third monograph, published by Monacelli Press, is scheduled to debut this fall.
Born in Nebraska, Jungles is surprised to have found his home in Florida. But there’s no doubt that the setting suits him. “Nature has always been a major source of inspiration,” he says.
Jungles is digging even deeper roots, conceptualizing a new house in the Miami area for himself and his family. Nature will be a primary driving force behind the design. “When I build my house, the interior and exterior will be fully integrated with water features, big windows, native plants, lots of light and easy access to the outdoors,” he says.
Late friend and mentor Roberto Burle Marx and his philosophy, “Design with principles, not formulas,” are often in the back of Jungles’ mind and design ethos.
“I like to design like nature is almost winning,” Jungles says. “There’s a naturalness and easiness to the gardens I create. I want to feel like it’s comfortable and doesn’t have to be maintained all the time.”
Above all, there is the wildness. “When I look at wild areas,” Jungles says, “it gives me great peace.” raymondjungles.com
Image Credits: Photos by Stephen Dunn Photography.