FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Raymond Jungles is a landscape architect with a distinct signature.
He loves oak trees and hates foundation plantings. He sees water features as the “heart and soul” of the garden. And he uses concrete monoliths as iconic statements.
Even if you can’t afford to hire this Miami landscape guru, you’ll get inspired by the innovative ideas from his new book, “The Colors of Nature: Subtropical Gardens” by Raymond Jungles (Monacelli Press, $50).
Jungles (yes, that is his real name) has put together a compendium of 24 gardens illustrated by 180 color photographs.
The projects range from an informal green space in Panama’s Pearl Islands to a home on the Indian River in Stuart, Fla., that features Florida plants and noninvasive species from the tropics and subtropics.
“I like landscapes that aren’t fussy,” Jungles said. “I do bold, simple, minimalist hardscapes that can stand the test of time and aren’t trendy. They are more sculptural and have a presence. I like plants that don’t need to be pruned or messed with and a lot of things that invite wildlife into the space.”
As he talks with passion about gardens, he sprinkles his conversation with references to his mentor and idol, the late Roberto Burle Marx.
Burle Marx is considered one of the most important landscape architects of the 20th century and has been credited with introducing modernist landscape architecture to Brazil.
A painter and sculptor as well as a landscape designer, he preferred using groupings of the same specimen and rejected mixing colors of flowers.
“He showed me what a fertile imagination and a perceptive mind can do,” Jungles said.
“I learned to avoid a formula and that I had a moral obligation to provide the perfect design for the project. He gave me a lifetime of inspiration. I learned about plants and drama and how interesting life can be.”
If you have ever been to Casa Morada, a 1950s motel converted to a trendy boutique resort on the bay side in Islamorada in the Florida Keys, you can see why Jungles describes it as “one of the best things I have ever done.”
His creative impact is evident as soon as you pull up to the 1.7-acre site and see how he transformed an asphalt parking lot with a hodgepodge of plants and trees into an intimate garden space anchored by a trio of painted concrete monoliths framed with gumbo limbo trees and the Aechmea “Dean” bromeliads.
“The monoliths have an iconic appearance,” Jungles said. “The new owners (who used to work for hotelier Ian Schrager in New York) wanted to project more of a hip image.”
On the flip side of the main building, he created a limestone grotto, which creates a cool micro-climate.
He moved big trees to other locations on the property, tore down the old boat house to enhance the water view and built a boccie court.
The island, which was connected to the mainland with a bridge, featured a pool surrounded by cracked concrete. Jungles replaced the concrete with 220 cubic yards of sand and added beach-friendly plants.
Jungles’ challenge in the Julie and Jeff Cornfeld garden in Hollywood, Fla., was how to work with the plantings to complement the scale and boldness of the architecture and bring it back to human scale.
The travertine floor was extended outside at the front entrance with travertine veneer over the platform steps, which were softened with plantings on each side.
The driveway turned into a courtyard with zoysia grass between the rock-salt-finished concrete pavers. The Julie and Jack Miller home in Stuart is an example of what Jungles calls “regionalism in gardening.”
The main plants and materials are distinctly Floridian and noninvasive tropical and subtropical areas are secondary.
Jack Miller, one of the owners of Botanics Wholesale Nursery in Homestead, Fla., wanted to use some of the rare species that he sells.
But they are surrounded with more common plantings, such as the sabal palms that lean over the grotto, Old Man palms from Cuba, agaves and bromeliads.
Much of the garden appears full and lush with plants, but the water features are shown without much clutter.
He designed the bench fountain with a subtle cascade and the pool area is framed with plantings that screen the neighboring houses and docks without distracting from the view of the Indian River.
“To me, good subtropical design should be architecture and gardens that relate to the environment,” Jungles said. “You should integrate the outside and the inside. It should be friendly and inviting.”
And no one would debate that’s exactly what Jungles does.