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Example of a tropical garden in the UK

Building a tropical garden is much like building any other kind of garden, except generally choosing more tropical looking plants than you would find in your everyday British garden. There is something magical about building a tropical themed garden though, as you can use inspiration from jungles and rainforests on the other side of the globe. No doubt that having a tropical garden involves a bit more care through the winter, but the results can be spectacular. 

1. Draw a plan of your garden as it is now

Find a layout you like. Start by making a drawing of your garden as it is now, and think about natural features that you can’t move, such as areas of walls, manhole covers, areas of paving or slabs that you don’t want to move, as well as areas that don’t get much light such as under big over hanging trees. There are many garden design books out there to give you inspiration if you don’t have any right now!

2. Find the sun

Identify the areas of the garden that get the most sun, and which aspect and direction they are facing, and how much exposure they get to the prevailing winds. This is critical to making sure your tropical plants get the best they can during the summer months, and the most protection in the winter. Choose the wrong area and your expensive tropical plant will be mush before you know it. 

3. Choose the main border positions

Plan where your main borders will be, and where the main focal points will be, and start your plant placement from there. For instance, if you need to cover an eyesore, or create a green wall, you may want to use something tall and bulky like Bamboo

4. Choose the backbone hardy plants

Choose your backbone hardy but tropical plants to give your garden structure through the winter, but choose plants that still have that big leaf jungle feel, such as Fatsia Japonica. Bamboo is another that doesn’t always loose leaves in the winter. Think about which plants will need to be over wintered, such as when you overwinter banana plants

5. Choose the statement plants

Once you have your backbone, you can choose your statement pieces, maybe a hero plant you’ve always wanted, or a plant you are most interested in yourself. For instance a huge clump of the banana Musa basjoo is a simple statement plant that you can then use as a foil for other plants around it, and then choose plants that work well around the base, such as Alocasia or Colocasia.

6. Choose the annuals and super tenders

Last thing is to choose your annual tenders, which you can grow from seed or small plug plants that you know won’t make it through the winter but you grow them anyway just for the sheer joy of seeing them through the summer. 

The trade off between effort and tropical-ness. 

Building a tropical garden is always a trade off between effort and return. The more tropical you want your garden, the more tender most of the plants will be, and therefore will require more attention through the winter. It is possible to have a hardy tropical garden that requires not much effort (if any) through the winter, but your choice of plants will be more limited, and it’ll need a lot of planning. It can be done though, many people do!


Last Modified: May 4, 2022