Q. How can I give my garden a tropical feel?

Bold planting can transport your plot to the tropics, says Dawn Isaac

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We might not have the hot and humid climate of a tropical rainforest, but it is still possible to conjure up a jungle-inspired design in a British back garden. Set the tone with bamboo or rattan furniture as well as log paths: the materials to hand in a tropical landscape. However if you want longer lasting features you can go for imitation or synthetic versions which are better able to survive our cold and wet weather.
But the most vital element by far is the planting. A lush tropical feel demands large leaves and lots of them. Thankfully many exotic looking plants are hardy enough to withstand our climate.  In filling your borders it is also worth making sure you have evergreens aplenty so your carefully layered beds not denuded in winter.
Colour is less important to the overall look, but you can inject some with shade tolerant species, or by adding splashes of flowering plants in more open areas. If these are grown in pots, you can even introduce some truly exotic species that can then be overwintered in a conservatory or greenhouse.

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THE PROBLEM
1. Bare walls and fences give a hemmed in look
2. Lack of plants means there are no seasonal surprises
3. There's nothing to hide the neighbouring houses
4. Although the garden seems spacious, you can see it all at once

 

THE SOLUTION


Upper canopy
Birch trees help mask neighbouring properties whilst also providing a light shade upper canopy to create a forest feel to the garden

Tropical hideaway
A thatched roof hut creates a jungle themed dining area and a focal point in the forest 'clearing'

Foliage rich planting
Large leaved foliage plants creates a lush tropical feel, with deciduous, tender plants balanced with hardier evergreens

Log sections
Reconstituted stone stepping stones replicating cut logs creates a hardwearing path feature set amongst gravel

Meandering paths
Curving paths create a sense of discovery as new views open up around each corner

Bamboo bridge
Large leaved water lilies cover a circular pond which is crossed by a wooden bridge with bamboo balustrades.

Suspended seat
Rattan effect furniture creates a tropical feel whilst being hard wearing and a hanging chairscreates an additional relaxed holiday feel to the space.  

Water feature
A water shoot delivered via a large bamboo stem brings jungle-inspired sights and sounds into the garden


Top 10 Plants for a Tropical Look

Acanthus mollis - Bear's breeches forms an enormous architectural plant with large glossy leaves up to a metre in length and tall summer flower spikes of white blossoms hooded by purple bracts. Height 1.5m, spread 90cm.

Hedychium gardnerianum - one of the hardiest ginger lilies, this has dramatic foliage reminiscent of banana plants and then a giant spike of sweetly scented flower in late summer and early autumn. Needs winter protection. Height 1.5m, spread 1m.

Musa basjoo - the hardiest of banana plants with dramatic paddle-shaped leaves up to 3m in length. Requires winter protection for its foliage and crown. Height 5m, spread 4m.

Fatsia japonica - a useful evergreen shrub with glossy dark green palmate leaves and unusual rounded flower spikes in autumn. Needs some protection in cold areas. Height and spread 4m.

Trachycarpus fortunei - The Chusan Palm has large and distinctive fan-shaped leaves and a dark brown fibrous trunk. Will take full sun or part shade but needs winter protection from hard frosts. Height 20m, spread 2.5m.

Crocosmia 'Lucifer' - Sword shaped leaves give rise to arching red flowers in August and September that add a dash of hot colour. Can take partial shade. Height 1m, spread 80cm.

Asplenium scolopendrium - This hardy evergreen fern with its wavy edged frond is useful to grow in shady and even dry spots (when established). Height and spread 60cm.

Polypodium vulgare - an evergreen fern native to Britain which will happily colonise areas under trees where other plants may struggle. Height 30cm, spread 1m.

Hosta 'Sum & Substance' - a yellow-green hosta with enormous corrugated leaves and pale lilac flower spikes in summer. Height 75cm, spread 1.2m.

Dicksonia antarctica - a tree-like fern with roots forming a trunk and tough, long fronds. Trunk and crown needs to be well watered in growing season and the crown protected in winter. Height 6m, spread 4m.

 

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