Create a slice of paradise

Combine flappy leaves with grasses and ferns; large, lush leaves create a range of shapes and textures, says Naomi Slade


Structural specimen plants with architectural stems, dramatic evergreen leaves, height and poise provide a year-round framework. If you have room, plant a tree with dramatic leaves such as Eriobotrya japonica (loquat), Liriodendron chinense, Catalpa bignonioides (which can be pollarded so its leaves grow even bigger) and Albizia julibrissin rosea with ferny foliage and rose-pink flowers.


For small gardens consider structural shrubs including Fatsia japonica, Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ or hardy palms such as Trachycarpus fortunei (Chusan palm), slow-growing Jubaea chilensis (Chilean wine palm) and Chamaerops humilis (dwarf fan palm). Strappy-leaved yuccas and phormiums, with dramatic pink or yellow variegation, are a superb addition to an exotic-style garden, while half-hardy abutilon has evergreen leaves and handsome red and yellow bell flowers.

Bamboo creates a fantastic vertical accent, but it can run riot. Either choose well-behaved fargesia or bambusa species or sink the plant in a large pot and remove any shoots making a break for freedom.

Strappy, vertical grasses such as Miscanthus sinensis are useful and can persist through winter. Smaller, but no less striking, are Anemanthele lessoniana (pheasant’s tail grass), Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’ (Japanese blood grass) and shade-loving Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’.

With structure in place, layer in soft, lush, deciduous plants. Dicksonia antarctica tree ferns are magnificent, but only half-hardy, so in cold or marginal areas try more robust native ferns such as Dryopteris filix-mas, huge Osmunda regalis (the royal fern, which thrives in damp ground) and Matteuccia struthiopteris (the shuttlecock fern).

Hostas and colocasia cultivars have beautiful, dramatic ‘look at me’ leaves and, in damp soil, try experimenting with the exotic flowers and foliage of ligularia ‘The Rocket’ and Zantedeschia aethiopica.

Climbers and creepers are essential to knit any jungle together. Akebia quinata (chocolate vine) is handsome but huge, so also consider Trachelospermum jasminoides or Solanum jasminoides as an option. Actinidia kolomikta has exciting cream-and-pink-dipped leaves, while passion flowers and large-flowered clematis provide impressive tropical-style impact. 

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