Tropical Gardens - a guide to creating a tropical garden

Photo of Tropical Garden Design

This is one of my favourite garden styles. It is particularly effective when used close to the house, perhaps surrounding a patio. With careful planting it is a style which can be very dramatic even in winter which is another reason why it is a good choice for near the house where it can be seen from the windows or patio doors.

A tropical garden style is one where everything is large, green and dramatic. Architectural plants are used in abundance. Choose plants with big leaves or dramatic spiky leaves. Lots of shiny-leaved plants add to the tropical look. Colours tend to take second place in that the overall look is very green but patches of very bright, very dramatic colours can be introduced.

A tropical garden needs to be packed with plants but use lots of the same plants. Decide which plants you are going to use and plant in groups and use the same plants throughout the garden. A common mistake when creating any garden is to give in to temptation whenever you go to the garden centre and end up with a garden with no structure and too 'bitty' to have a good overall style.

Plants for a Tropical Garden

Tall Plants for a Tropical Garden

Clos du Coudray Tropical GardenMusa basjoo - A hardy banana with  very large green leaves

Bamboos - to provide height and movement to the garden

Gunnera - their huge leaves add to the tropical effect

Trachycarpus fortunei - large hardy palm - essential for a tropical garden

Tetrapanax papyrifera (Rice Paper Plant) - grows to more than 6 foot high and has a very jungle feel.

Sumacs, Rhus sp, - the leaves form a natural canopy at the top of these small trees

To give less exotic trees a more tropical feel remove foliage and side branches from the lower part of the trees revealing the trunks at the base and allowing foliage to form a canopy.

This picture is the tropical garden at Clos du Coudray in the north of France.

Medium Plants for a Tropical Garden

Fatsia japonica - a large shrub with large, glossy leaves

Ricinis communis - very like Fatsia but it is an annual and the leaves are more purple in colour (poisonous)

Acanthus mollis (Bears Breeches) - large glossy leaves and a tall, dramatic flower spike

Choisya ternata (Mexican Orange Blossom) - large shrub with lovely glossy leaves

Alocasia macrorrhiza (Elephants Ear Plant) - massive leaves on top of slender stems. Not hardy and so needs to be taken indoors over winter.

Small Plants for a Tropical Garden

Hostas - large, lush leaves. Choose the varieties with the biggest leaves such as Hosta 'Big Daddy'

Ivy - a covering of glossy green at floor level

Flowering Plants for a Tropical Garden

Canna lilies - large leaves and dramatic, brilliantly coloured flower spikes

Crocosmia sp - tall arching stems with flowers of bright orange, red or yellow

Kniphofia sp (red-hot poker) - strappy leaves and brightly coloured flower spikes

Examples of Tropical Gardens in France

The Clos du Coudray garden in the north-west of France has a tropical garden (see the photo above). The  Jardin Exotique de Roscoff is made up of mostly sub-tropical species.

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