I met Amanda Mitchell, owner of Jungle Design, one Sunday afternoon after walking by her beautiful space for years and swooning over her offerings. It perfectly embodies what "Jungle" sounds like: mysterious, exciting, and lush. Amanda's passion for plants is evident in her meticulous curation in this gardener's haven, and the generous time she took out of her busy schedule to talk botanical life with me.
iPP: What's your background and what led you to start Jungle Design?
AM: I grew up in the south so I was always around plants; my father was a big cattle rancher, so we spent a lot of time down on the farm. When I moved to New York, I didn’t study landscape or landscape design, but I studied fine arts. I was in the art gallery world, then switched to restoration work, and I started a business from that doing architectural salvage. I partnered up with a guy in the south who goes to Europe and buys reclaimed stone, wood, and other architectural elements. I had a store in Red Hook and I worked with architects and designers, mostly sourcing materials for their projects. One designer I was working with was like, "Can you just design the outdoor space?" and I was like, "Sure!" So I started working with the landscape designer and we collaborated with my sources for materials. There were so many things to learn; his knowledge of urbanscape is way different than southern gardening. So I started helping him with his installations, and found the hands-on work really rewarding. The girls that he worked for said, "Let's open up a store." And that’s how we came up with this space [Jungle].
The concept of Jungle was urban plant design, and as people learned about our surplus of plants–because nobody was walking down here 9 years ago–we would have to open on the weekends. This was before Facebook and social media and that stuff.
iPP: What's your favorite thing about working with nature?
AM: I guess it would be the change–how things adapt and interact, and the actual physical labor of it. The challenge makes it exciting. My real love is actually shopping and sourcing out plants and finding a match. So the nurseries that we work with are always bringing stuff that either you haven’t seen in a while or is new and working in our environment.
iPP: Tell us about the nurseries you work with.
AM: Jim Glover of Glover Perennials on the North Fork is a native plant grower and he’s done all kinds of great stuff with bringing back native plant material that's on the verge of extinction.
And then there's Dennis of Landcraft Environments and he and his partner travel all over the world and collect plant specimens and bring them back and propagate them on Long Island. He’s written a book called Hot Plants for Cool Climates, so a lot of the tropical stuff is pretty straight-up crazy tropical. But he's got a really unique plant inventory that we love.
Central Park or Prospect Park?
Palm tree or pine tree?
A dozen roses or a single orchid?
Croissant or cupcake?
NYBG or BBG?
Grand Cayman or Grand Canyon?
MoMA or MET?
Spring or Fall?
Stones or Beatles?
iPP: What’s your favorite type of garden?
AM: That’s so hard! The funny thing is I have a rooftop, and I have yet to really plan it out the way I want it because I just can't decide. You could have so many different things up there but I would say my favorite gardens are the ones where people want to get creative and explore and try different things. So I guess I'd have to say, the native garden with the ornamental grasses and the flowering perennials. I love using ornamental grass: for our environment they offer so much. The movement, that they're fit for all seasons, they're drought tolerant..because when you’re up on rooftops you’re dealing so many different microclimates and temperatures. Finding stuff that works and looks good year round is not an easy task. I love incorporating fruit trees, because birds, bees and butterflies come when you start using them.
iPP: What is your spirit plant and why?
AM: Passion vine. The colors and the blooms on it are so intriguing to me and layered-and those fruits at the end!
Jungle Design is located in Brooklyn at 61 Kent Avenue, and open Monday-Friday 9AM-6PM.