White aliums and a striking palm in a border

Best plants for an exotic garden

Create an exotic paradise in your plot with this selection of gorgeous plants.

With so much colour to enjoy, exotic or tropical gardens are a wonderful form of escapism.

Many of the plants grown in exotic gardens are just that – exotic. Growing them in a sheltered spot will help to create a microclimate that they’ll enjoy. Shelter from prevailing wind is especially important, and can be provided with fences, hedges, trees and buildings. If the plants are sensitive to frost, be prepared to protect them over winter.

With so much colour to enjoy, exotic or tropical gardens are a wonderful form of escapism.

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Many of the plants grown in exotic gardens are just that – exotic. Growing them in a sheltered spot will help to create a microclimate that they’ll enjoy. Shelter from prevailing wind is especially important, and can be provided with fences, hedges, trees and buildings. If the plants are sensitive to frost, be prepared to protect them over winter.

Using colourful plants is especially important in small gardens, where darker colours can seem to diminish the space. Don’t let that stop you from using dark-leaved plants as an accent, though.

If you need any more inspiration, have a look at images of Will Giles’ Norfolk garden. The doyen of exotic gardening, he pioneered the use of exotic plants in temperate climates.

Discover 10 of the best plants for an exotic garden, below.

Using colourful plants is especially important in small gardens, where darker colours can seem to diminish the space.

Hardy palms

Although native to hot, sunny climes, there are many hardy palms that can be grown in the UK climate. Bold and architectural, use them as a focal point in exotic schemes. Hardy palms to consider include Trachycarpus fortunei, Butia capitata, Brahea armata (pictured) and Chamaerops humilis.

Fan-shaped leaves of the Mexican blue palm
Fan-shaped leaves of the Mexican blue palm

Agapanthus

Exotic-looking agapanthus are ideal for providing shots of colour in your planting scheme. For full growing advice, check out our agapanthus grow guide.

Blue agapanthus flowers contrasting against a pink background
Blue agapanthus flowers contrasting against a pink background

Cannas

As well as providing shots of colour from the flowers, it’s the broad leaves of cannas that really lend themselves to exotic gardens, adding a tropical touch. Canna ‘Semaphore’ has gorgeous bronze-purple foliage, while that of ‘Centenaire’ is a rich green. Find out to plant cannas in borders.

Pink and purple canna leaves showing red, bronze and green with light shining through them
Pink and purple canna leaves showing red, bronze and green with light shining through them

Mexican sunflowers

Brightly coloured flowers, like those of Mexican sunflowers (tithonias) are essential in an exotic garden, providing dots of colour amongst the dense greenery of foliage plants. Other plants to consider here include dahlias, begonias and hedychiums.

Bright orange Mexican sunflowers
Bright orange Mexican sunflowers

Jasmine

Growing scented plants like jasmine will add to the tranquil, exotic atmosphere of the garden. Planting them in a sheltered spot will help the scent to linger in the air instead of being carried away by the wind. Also consider Pittosporum tobiraGardenia ‘Kleim’s Hardy’ and Lilium regale.

White flowers of star jasmine
White flowers of star jasmine

Lobelia tupa

This eye-catching perennial is perfect for adding the drama that an exotic garden calls for. Almost hardy, Lobelia tupa enjoys growing in moist soil in a sunny spot.

Striking red flowers of devil's tobacco
Striking red flowers of devil’s tobacco

Tetrapanax papyrifer

With some winter protection, the rice paper plant (Tetrapanax papyrifer) will grow into an architectural beauty. Give it plenty of room as the huge leaves will shade out smaller plants. Discover more plants with bold foliage to grow.

Huge, deeply serrated leaves of the rice paper plant
Huge, deeply serrated leaves of the rice paper plant

Bananas

Bananas to grow in the UK include Musa basjoo, which is the hardier option, and the colourful Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’. The enormous paddle shaped leaves are sure to catch the eye and add to the tropical atmosphere. Find out how to plant a banana.

Bronze and green banana palms
Bronze and green banana palms

Persicaria microcephala

This hardy persicaria is ideal for edging exotic borders. For lots of colour, go for the cultivar ‘Red Dragon’ – the purple-red leaves add extra colour and contrast well with its white summer flowers. Other suitable edging plants include erigeron and coreopsis.

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Purple-red persicaria foliage
Purple-red persicaria foliage

Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis is ideal for dotting in borders for splashes of colour. It may also self-seed – if seedlings are in the wrong spot, you can just transplant them or pot them up. Butterflies love the flowers and they’ll look charming as they flutter around.

An array of purple verbena flowers
An array of purple verbena flowers

Start from seed

Buying mature, potted plants can add up, so it’s a good idea to grow what you can from seed. Find out how to grow exotic plants like cannas and ipomoeas from seed.

With so much colour to enjoy, exotic or tropical gardens are a wonderful form of escapism.

Many of the plants grown in exotic gardens are just that – exotic. Growing them in a sheltered spot will help to create a microclimate that they’ll enjoy. Shelter from prevailing wind is especially important, and can be provided with fences, hedges, trees and buildings. If the plants are sensitive to frost, be prepared to protect them over winter.

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