Q How can I give my suburban British garden a more tropical feel?

Combine bold, architectural foliage with vibrant flowers to create a jungle garden, says Louisa Gilhooly

Design for a tropical garden from Garden Answers August 2021

by Liz Potter |

MAKING YOUR own theatrical, jungle-inspired garden in Britain is easier than you’d think, the key in our temperate climate is to select a palette of plants that give you the tropical feel rather than struggling to grow true jungle plants that might not survive our wet and icy winters. The great thing about this approach is you can mix plants that wouldn’t normally grow together in the wild, such as agapanthus from South Africa alongside bamboo from China.

Jungle-style gardens work best when you create different layers of planting - the tree canopy, mid-layers and ground cover. This helps to form a lush density of planting that evokes a tropical rainforest, so you feel like you’re immersed among the foliage and flowers. The slight slope of this garden and the raised beds also add to the sense of being enveloped by planting.

In this design the boundary fences have been concealed as much as possible with climbers and bamboo, while tall trees and shrubs provide a sense of enclosure. For the full-on jungle look, grow a selection of plants with contrasting foliage – look for different textures, leaf shapes and heights from grasses, palms, ferns and spiky phormiums to create an intriguing tapestry of foliage. You can even move houseplants such as colocasia outdoors during the summer months to add to the effect.

This style of garden shouldn’t feel formal at all. Paths should be winding and narrow, with low-growing plants tumbling over them. Natural materials such as bark, wood and gravel are ideal for hard landscaping - here a timber boardwalk and deck feel as if they emerge from the planting. A small pond adds to the atmosphere and provides the perfect damp environment for moisture-loving plants such as the arum lily and gunnera to thrive; it’ll also encourage frogs to take up residence and they’ll feed on slugs, helping to keep the hosta leaves hole-free.

1. Cover bare soil - Use cobblestones as a groundcover feature around the base of the trees and shrubs and plant mind-your-own-business (Soleirolia soleirolii) in between where it’ll form a carpet of verdant green.

2. Choose dramatic ornaments - To match the architectural planting and bold foliage shapes, choose sculptures and ornaments with a dramatic outline, such as these Easter Island heads.

3. Create a canopy - Include tall plants with large leaves to create a canopy of foliage above head height, which will add to the jungle feel and sense of enclosure.

4. Work with your levels - Incorporating different levels by making the most of a slope or constructing raised beds will help to add a sense of drama and bring low-growing plants closer to you.

5. Use natural materials - Timber’s natural feel suits a jungle design, but if you’re worried about its longevity or weathering to become a slip hazard, look for long-lasting, wood-effect porcelain tiles or composite decking.

6. Hide fences and walls - Paint boundaries in a dark grey or black so that they ‘disappear’ into the background and clad them with climbers to create that feeling of dense undergrowth.

7. Go for hardy lookalikes - In colder gardens use hardy plants with large foliage and combine with tropical houseplants which can be brought outside during the summer.

Planting plan and plant list for a tropical garden
Planting plan and plant list for a tropical garden
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