Exotic planting schemes are as much about bold, dramatic foliage as showy flowers. Planting in different layers, or ‘storeys’, is a great way to achieve a jungle-style effect in your garden.
Bamboos and bananas can be used to add structure and height, while ferns make perfect mid-level plants. For low-level ground cover, hostas are hard to beat.
To continue the tropical theme, add colour with cheery fuchsias, dahlias or begonias.
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Here are 11 plants to use in a jungle-style planting scheme.
Tree ferns such as Dicksonia antartica or Dicksonia youngiae, shown here, are the ultimate plants for the jungle look – they bring drama to any garden. In summer, keep well watered (at the crown, not the base). In winter, protect the crown by wrapping it with straw, horticultural fleece or even dead fronds.
Pineapple lily in flower
Eucomis, or pineapple lilies, are tuberous perennials with broad leaves and beautiful flower spikes produced from mid- to late summer. They’re ideal for the understory layer of a jungle garden. Can be grown outdoors all year in milder locations, with a thick layer of mulch for protection over winter. Otherwise they can be lifted and stored somewhere frost-free.
Hedychium ‘Assam Orange’ with ox-eye daisies
Like pineapple lilies, ginger lilies are a great choice for the understory of a jungle border. They have exotic foliage and spikes of fragrant, usually orange or yellow flowers. Check out these cannas and hedychiums to grow for growing advice and varieties to try out.
Foxglove tree, Paulownia tomentosa
Left unpruned, the foxglove tree (Paulownia tomentosa) will quickly grow into a stunning tree with fragrant spring flowers that resemble foxgloves. However, in a jungle border it can be coppiced each year in late autumn or winter to produce huge, dramatic leaves to last the following spring, summer and autumn.
Commonly known as cobra lilies for their unusually shaped flowers, arisaemas will thrive in the shady parts of a jungle border. Bring some extra drama by growing one of the species with dark, striped flowers, such as Arisaema concinnum or Arisaema exappendiculatum.
Chinese yellow banana, Musa lasiocarpa
This dwarf banana species is commonly known as the Chinese yellow or golden lotus banana. The leaves are a beautiful silvery green tone and it’ll grow quickly to produce a spectacular golden flower that lasts for months. It can tolerate light frosts but the roots will require a protective winter mulch and the stem will need wrapping in horticultural fleece or another suitable material. It’s also found with the names Ensete lasiocarpum and Musella lasiocarpum.
Setaria palmifolia goes by the common name of palm grass, and it’s easy to see why. While not hardy, it makes a spectacular container plant and grown like this can be moved to a frost-free location over winter. Will thrive in a warm spot with moist soil.
Pachysandra terminalis ‘Green Carpet’
Pachysandras provide fabulous evergreen ground cover, so think of them as the lush green carpet to your woodland border. Hardy and easy to grow.
Colocasias are valued for their magnificently large leaves, especially if you’re growing a species like Colocasia fontanesii or Colocasia esculenta. Well worth growing, though the corms will need to be lifted and stored somewhere frost-free over winter. Or grow in a large pot or container.
Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’
Easily one of the best known plants for a jungle or exotic garden, Tetrapanax papyrifera has huge leaves not unlike those of fatsias, but larger. It’s hardy down to -10ºC, though the leaves will likely brown in temperatures slightly warmer than this. Easy to grow and grows quickly.
Fatsia japonica is an evergreen shrub with large, dramatic leaves that suit a jungle border perfectly; it’s also a great shrub for shady borders. It likes a shady spot. Also consider Fatsia polycarpa.
The castor oil plant, Ricinus communis, is an annual grown for its large, glossy, reddish-purple foliage. Seeds must be sown very early in the year; alternatively, buy a ready-grown plant. All parts of the plant are highly toxic, especially the seeds, so handle with care and keep away from children.
Begonias, such as ‘Madame Richard Galle’, pictured, have interesting foliage and longlasting, brightly coloured flowers that are perfect for complementing the jungle look. In autumn, lift the tubers and store them somewhere frost-free over the winter. Other plants to consider here include dahlias and tithonias.
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 tobira, Choisya ‘Aztec Pearl’ and Gardenia ‘Kleim’s Hardy’.
Bamboos are great for adding height and evergreen interest to a jungle border. There are lots of varieties to choose from, including Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Lama Temple’. Remove the foliage from the lower parts of the plant to show off the interesting stems. Go for more well-behaved fargesias if you’re worried about them spreading, or grow them in a large container.
Hostas are primarily grown for their dramatic foliage and make an excellent addition to a jungle-style scheme. There are many varieties to choose from, many variegated. Most prefer shade. Be sure to protect them from slugs.
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.
Crocosmias bring two things to a jungle border: interesting, sword-like leaves and splashes of bright colour from sprays of yellow, orange or red flowers. These hardy perennials also look great in a ‘hot’ border.
Ferns look suitably jungly and are ideal for the ‘lower storey’ of your jungle scheme. Some are evergreen, for added winter interest. No room for a jungle-style border? Try an exotic-looking container instead.
This hardy schefflera produces attractive panicles of exotic-looking leaves. The foliage is evergreen and it will eventually form a large shrub or small tree.
Other jungle-style plants to try
Creating a microclimate
Many of the plants grown in tropical gardens are just that – tropical. 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.