Exotic gardens are fun and exciting to create – with careful planning you can create your very own tropical paradise.
This style works particularly well in urban gardens or as an exotic section or ‘room’ in a sheltered corner of a larger garden, where the plants thrive in the slightly protected microclimate.
In a small space, the dramatic planting can be condensed for high impact, so you really feel immersed in it. The plants that create the biggest impact tend to be those with large foliage, such as bananas and hardy palms, or imposing architectural forms such as bamboos. Once you have a few of these setting the scene, perennials such as persicaria and dahlias can be planted to give the border a boost of colour.
Large exotic plants can be expensive to buy, so shop around and think about investing in one or two big specimens for instant impact, then bulk out the border with some cheaper, faster-growing plants.
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Take a look at these five plant picks for a jungle border, below.
This canna has striking, striped leaves in a blend of purple, orange, pink and green. There are more subdued green-leaved varieties, too. In a good summer, they can produce a bonus display of bold orange flowers, which stand out dramatically against a green backdrop.
Height x spread: 1.5m x 50cm.
Dwarf fan palm (Chamaerops humilis)
There are lots of hardy palms to go for here, but the dwarf fan palm is well suited to a jungle border in bearing large leaves, while remaining compact in size. This species is variable in form – all have a tendency to sucker, forming multi-stem plants, but some won’t form a trunk while others form trunks several metres tall. To be sure you get what you want, it’s a good idea to select your own plants in person to get the shape you prefer. If planting more than one, choose a range of different shapes, sizes and heights for a less uniform, more natural look.
H x S: 2m x 1m.
Umbrella bamboo (Fargesia murielae)
All bamboos bring a tropical feel to a garden. The taller ones sway in the wind, introducing movement, and provide height without creating a shady canopy. This one is a medium-sized, evergreen species, with gracefully arching canes and smallish leaves. Try it at the rear of a border to form a backdrop – bamboo is an excellent screening plant, too. This is a clump-forming species – avoid spreading Phyllostachys and Sasa bamboos as they’re difficult to control.
H x S: 3m x 1m.
Hardy Japanese banana (Musa basjoo)
Primarily grown for its giant leaves, the hardy banana sometimes bears exotic-looking flowers and even small bunches of (inedible) fruit. Although the leaves then die, new shoots sprout from the base. If you protect the stem every winter, the plant will develop a tall trunk and produce leaves above head height, reaching up to 2m long. Plant in a sheltered spot so the foliage doesn’t get damaged by wind. Buy small plants as they’re fast-growing and easy to propagate.
H x S: 3m x 2m.
Red bistort (Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’)
Persicaria amplexicaulis is a vigorous clump-forming perennial that thrives in full sun or partial shade. Its foliage works well as ground cover and, in summer, it bears upright spikes of crimson flowers. In an exotic planting scheme it can be planted between larger specimens.
H x S: 1.2m x 1.2m.
Looking after your jungle garden
Buying and planting
- Focus your money first on the palms, as they’re slow-growing, then on the bamboo, buying one medium-sized plant or several smaller ones
- Dig in plenty of garden compost or well-rotted manure before planting, and add grit beneath the chamaerops to add drainage. Water in well
- In mild areas, leave the cannas in the ground all winter, covered with a deep mulch of compost. In colder areas, lift the rhizomes in autumn and store in a frost-free shed over winter
- In cold areas, wrap the palms in horticultural fleece over winter
- Mulch the soil in autumn
- In spring, apply a general fertiliser to all the plants. Feed the cannas regularly all summer with a high-potash feed to encourage flowering. Apart from the palm, all these plants like moist soil, so water well all summer for best results
Other tips for creating a tropical border
- Add plants with large lush foliage, such as ferns, hostas, fatsia, asarum and tetrapanax
- Introduce big, bright blooms and some summer bulbs, such as eucomis and large alliums
Creating more plants for free
- The banana will produce new plants at the base in spring. Cut off, with some roots, and replant
- With the bamboo, slice off a section of the clump with several shoots and vigorous roots
- Divide the canna rhizomes in spring – each section needs two or three growing points
- Divide the persicaria in autumn or spring