I've been lucky enough to travel the length and breadth of the little country of Malaysia, and one of my favorite adventures was swimming at a secluded island beach in Langkawi. Surrounded by nothing but the silent Indian Ocean and untold acres of wild, untamed jungle, I spent hours bobbing in the silky waves as my eyes drank in the undulating green sea of tree tops, and my ears rang with the high-pitched and never-ending cacophony of insects and birds that is known as the scream of the jungle. Later, I learned that the interior jungles of Malaysia are roamed by marauding packs of elephants who will knock cars from the roadways with a single swipe of the trunk, and even a remaining population of elusive, endangered tigers.
So strange and unearthly different from my beloved Pacific Northwest fir forests, so foreign and incomparable to anything I had ever experienced before, the tropical jungle has since earned a place in my imagination, and made a home in my heart.
^ To build a jungle, start with some big, leafy basics. Shove the couches to the middle of the room, and let the forestation begin.
^ Add a plant table to boost up the little guys. Mine is homemade from pallet lumber with a few coats of polyurethane.
^ Buy only the plants that you adore.
Like half the universe, I've been obsessed with fiddle leaf figs, and keep a giant specimen next to the table in my office. But when I discovered that they - or something much like them - grow luxuriantly along the roadsides of Hyderbad, India, I let go of all restraint. I've added two more of the beauties to my collection since I got home from my trip and I don't promise that I'm done.
^ The leaves on this philodenrom selloum please me beyond reason. They're just so big and bouncy and ridiculously whimsical that I suspect Dr Suess must have had a hand in their propagation.
^ Transplant every specimen into a clay pot (nine out of ten plants prefer them over plastic), water and feed conservatively, and give everyone a chance to settle in and get growing.
Along with a beloved ten-year-old jade tree and a deep green scheffelara, just like the one in my childhood home, my baby jungle has just begun.
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Okay, so that's a little extreme. I'll settle for keeping a few couches around as long as I can heap up the sunny spots with greenery galore.
My current goal is to turn one end of my living room into my own private tropical jungle. Lush, leafy greens of every shade and texture, heaped on my rustic homemade table, clustered together in pots, and straining toward the ceiling. When I walk in this room, I want to feel like I just wandered into the deep, green mystery of the Malaysian interior.
Minus the bugs. And the stampeding elephants.
But I wouldn't mind a well-mannered tiger or two.