Nafanua: A Little Paradise in the Suburbs

(Please note: as this blog has been transferred from our old website some images are low resolution.)

It’s a sizzling summer in Australia – so let’s celebrate by visiting a tropical garden in Brisbane.

Mauri Maunsell’s brightly painted studio at the back of the garden was once a garage. Now it’s a vibrant backdrop to a verdant scramble of plants.

This is not a garden IN the tropics, (Brisbane is sub-tropical) instead Nafanua has been inspired BY the tropics. It has all the hall marks: lush foliage, shady paths, discreetly placed water vessels, gorgeous coloured blooms… and heavenly scents.

The boldly beautiful: both the paddle-shaped leaves and hot-hued flower vessels (tiny flowers are inside) are sculptural.

Two chaps, Mauri Maunsell and Wilhelmus Brantjes, have spent a couple of decades on this little piece of paradise. Mauri, an artist and sculptor, has been the primary creative force.

“I endeavoured to build a haven with tropical ambience – a kaleidoscope of vibrant coloured foliage, varied form, sudden surprises and a respite from a busy road,” says Mauri.

In Samoan ‘Nafanua means’ ‘hidden paradise’ which suits the garden tucked in behind this Queenslander’s picket fence.

When they first bought the property thirty years ago there was little else than spring bulbs, three roses and a sick grapefruit – plus two strips of cement leading to the garage.

An essence of Asia has been affected with urns and ornaments – and yes, Buddha resides here too… a quiet presence in many tropically-inspired gardens.

“The garden is now a manifestation of my love of tropical plants and represents many years of collecting.”

All-weather wending paths are bordered by low-growing plants such as bromeliads, alocasias, anthuriums and philodendrons.

Bromeliads are colourful highlights in the understory.

Large, natural stones set amongst pebbles make an attractive pathway.

“I love the luxurious exuberance of palms and aroids such as bird’s nest, anthuriums and climbing philodendrons. I particularly savour the flamboyant colours of cordylines, bromeliads and crotons as well.”

Tropical gardens look amazing, but just like cool clime gardens there’s always plenty of work to be done – all rewarding of course! Spent spikes of heliconias and gingers are cut to the ground; there’s a constant drop of fronds; prolific bromeliads need thinning; rampant vines need restraining; and cordylines benefit from a good cut back to avoid legginess.

So the pool at the back of Mauri and Willie’s garden must offer perfect relief after their labour in the beautiful ‘Nafanua’!


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