Couple transform their low-key Leeds yard into ‘eccentric garden of the year’

A couple has transformed their tiny backyard into a tropical paradise to bring ‘holidays to them’ following a trip to Thailand.

Simon Mabury, 52, and his husband, Richard, 43, set out to create a jungle-themed garden at the back of their Leeds home as a renovation project since lockdown.

The couple was inspired to create their own green sanctuary after visiting countries like Vietnam and Thailand on holiday – and to bring a sense of calm to help with Simon’s mental health which he has struggled with since coming out as gay.

From a barren patch to now homing more than 400 plants – the space boasts tropical flowers, leafy canopies, a water feature with three separate pools, and a wooden decking area to create a unique walkway through the garden.

Stepping out of their home and into the garden makes the pair feel as though they are walking into an entirely different world – with both claiming it washes away their worries and woes.

Simon, a digital artist, said: “When I step into my garden, I don’t feel like I’m in Leeds anymore, with the canopy over my head, it feels like I can be anywhere in the world.

“In 2020, it was an unloved piece of lawn, and it just looked barren and sad.

“I started it as a lockdown project to aid me with my depression and anxiety, something to focus on instead of my succumbing to my mental health.

“I came out as gay at 40-years-old, and it crashed me into a period of mental health issues which I struggled with for a long time, but the garden has truly been my salvation.

“Turning our tiny garden into this tropical paradise just felt like the right direction to go in.”

A first-time project for the pair, they both got down and dirty, putting their DIY skills to the test.

Simon adds: “We love the jungle palm tree type look, so the catalyst to transforming our garden really came from buying a palm tree and seeing how long it would survive in a UK climate.

“From there, we experimented a lot with different leafy plants from all over the world like Rubus Lineatus from Vietnam, to tree ferns from New Zealand and Schefflera from Taiwan.

“It was really a matter of trial and error to see which ones would thrive.

“From there, we decided to build a walkway through the garden, as well as three different water pool features and an irrigation system to truly give it that rainforest, jungle feel.

“Richard did most of the building and I did most of the planting.

“Some of my favourite plants include my papaya plant, and this incredible cabbage tree that has the most vibrant leaves.

“We wanted the garden to be a space that was completely covered by a canopy of plants, leaves, and trees, so the addition of five palm trees and banana plants has really bought that idea to life.”

Simon and Richard’s mini jungle may only measure seven by five metres however, it is packed to the rim with many unique features that you wouldn’t find in your typical British garden.

Over the past two years, the couple has forked out over £3,000 on their slice of paradise, which has since won them the B&Q award for ‘eccentric gardeners of the year’.

Simon said: “We’ve spent about £3000 on the garden, which is the equivalent of a lavish holiday.

“Now we think, why spend that much on a holiday, when we’ve bought the holiday to us!

“We’ve done a lot of work, and honestly, I still don’t think it’s finished despite all of the plants being packed in like sardines.

“It’s a super healthy eco-system, and there are always more plants sprouting here and there, and we don’t have to bother pulling weeds anymore, because there’s just no room for them to grow.

“Our family and friends love coming to see the garden’s progress, and love having to move leaves out of the way when walking down the little path.

“It’s always a mystery what they’re going to see next.

“Even our neighbours comment on it saying how much they love it and how unique it is to see a garden like that in the UK, as it towers above our garden wall.

“The garden is even just as vibrant in winter because of all of the evergreen plants we have put in, so that it continues to thrive in all weathers.”