Tropical garden design is popular these days for those who want to bring a sense of heat and warmth to their outside spaces. Even in small spaces, you can make your garden feel like a tropical jungle, no matter where you live.
What Is A Tropical Garden?
When you hear the term tropical garden, you may think about a garden that is located in a tropical climate country. But a tropical garden does not necessarily have to be located abroad.
Even in temperate climes, you can create a tropical garden by creating a dense, lush and jungle-like feel. A garden can have a tropical theme even while incorporating more hardy plants, and features suited to cooler climate zones.
However, if you love tropical and exotic plants, you might also create a truly tropical garden under cover – even if you cannot grow such plants outdoors.
Our Top 10 Tropical Garden Design Ideas
When it comes to tropical garden design ideas, it is important to design for your particular site. Before you begin, decide whether you would like to grow truly tropical plants, or create that jungle feel with hardier plant selections.
Our top tips to create a tropical garden:
- Choose the right plants for the right places. Expand your plant options with undercover growing areas and by creating micro-climates.
- Include palm trees and other exotic-looking options.
- Create layered planting throughout the space, planting densely for that tropical jungle look.
- Add a water feature.
- And a wildlife pond.
- Add a pergola or gazebo for shade.
- And create a seating area with wooden decking.
- Add sleek features for a modern twist.
- Add rocks in paths and bed edging.
- Incorporate plans for winter from the outset.
Read on to learn more about creating the ideal tropical garden for where you live and for more details about these tropical garden ideas.
Don’t Restrict Your Plant Choices
You might be surprised to hear that many plants that live in tropical climates can be grown in British gardens and in other temperate areas.
The key to growing tropical plants successfully is to understand the growing conditions required by different plants, and to place those plants in places where those conditions can be provided.
Sometimes, this may mean selecting plants that can make it through the winter outdoors where you live. At other times it may mean growing plants in a polytunnel, which will provide warmer conditions than can be provided outdoors. It might also mean planting and adding features to your outside spaces which improve the environmental conditions, and create microclimates where more tender plants can thrive.
In this article, we talk about some of the tropical plants that can be grown outdoors in the UK.
Include Palm Trees
Adding trees for shade cover and to create a lush and tropical garden feel is one of the key things that will help you give your garden the feel that you are looking for. Palm trees are amongst the most popular options for those who want to create a tropical vibe.
You can consider options such as:
- Chamaerops humilis
- Brahea armata
- Butia capitata
- Jubaea chilensis
- Phoenix canariensis
- Rhapidophyllum hystrix
- Sabal minor
- Trachycarpus fortunei
- Trithrinax campestris
- Washingtonia filifera
These hardy palms can all potentially be grown outdoors in the UK, especially where there are milder and more sheltered conditions. If you have a polytunnel, or another undercover growing area, more tender palms might also be considered.
Remember, however, that palms are not the only trees that can be useful for adding immediate impact in a tropical garden design.
You might also consider other hardier trees for a tropical look, including:
- Arbutus unedo
- Catalpa bungei
- Dicksonia antarctica (tree fern)
- Eriobotrya japonica
- Feijoa sellowiana
- Ficus carica
- Ginkgo biloba
- Magnolia grandiflora
- Paulownia imperialis
- Tetrapanax papyrifera
These are just a few tropical garden ideas to consider to provide the trees essential to such a scheme.
Create A Varied Border
As well as planting trees, it is also important to think about the lower layers of the planting scheme. Whether this is layered planting within a small border in a small tropical garden, or a more widespread planting scheme that fills the space, creating as much denseness and variety as possible is key.
As well as planting trees, hardy bamboos can also be useful as larger specimens within a tropical garden. You should also add other large shrubs such as Fatsia japonica, for example, and other large shrubs and architectural plants.
It is very important to think about all the layers that go into making up a tropical forest or jungle. There are the trees, the shrubs, the climbers, and varied herbaceous plants. Incorporate plenty of plants with large leaves or strong architectural forms, and bright blooms, to give your garden that tropical look.
Position A Water Feature
Adding moving water to a tropical garden is another shortcut to that exotic feel. A fountain or waterfall will fill the space with the sounds of running water, and make the space feel more like a warm-climate paradise. And looking out over water will help you feel more relaxed and make your garden, whether outdoors or inside a polytunnel, a more peaceful place to be.
Include A Pond
Wildlife ponds are one type of water features especially suited to a tropical garden design. Wildlife ponds are wonderfully relaxing, and, of course, bring in a wide range of beneficial creatures to your space. A tropical jungle teems with life and your garden will too if you add such wildlife-friendly features to the space.
What is more, whether in a polytunnel or outside, a body of water can help to create a warmer micro-climate. The water soaks up heat from the sun during the day, and releases that heat slowly when temperatures fall.
Add To The Atmosphere With A Pergola
As we talked about in our article on garden design trends, people are thinking about their outdoors living places more than ever before – recognising the role their gardens can play in improving work-life balance. A pergola is a wonderful choice in a tropical garden as a space for work or recreation.
A pergola or other outdoors structure can work very well in a tropical garden. Not only will it provide a delightfully private and lightly shaded spot amid tropical planting. It can also serve as a support for dramatic and beautiful climbing plants.
Install A Wooden Deck Base
To create a seating area or a recreational space in your tropical garden, wooden decking is an excellent choice. The natural material will look right in a dense and tree filled garden, helping to create that forest-like feel.
The wood can be charred to preserve it – creating a dark black finish that provides a wonderful backdrop for deep green foliage plants and vibrant flowers. Or it could be preserved with eco-friendly Organowood which fossilizes the wood, allowing it to weather over time to a silvery grey. Weathered decking also looks great in a garden with a jungle vibe.
Use A Modern Twist
Tropical garden planter
In a tropical garden, the wild chaos and extravagance of the dense planting is often part of the appeal. But you can still if you wish achieve a sleek modern look by adding orderly pathways and refined contemporary elements such as garden furniture and eco-friendly LED lighting within the space.
When working out how to create a small tropical garden, remember that you do not necessarily have to devote your entire garden to a scheme of this type. A small corner bed behind garden seating, or a small raised bed could also help you bring the tropics to your garden.
You might even be able to add a tiny tropical garden planter indoors.
Set Up A Rock Path
Natural stone helps continue the theme and makes your tropical garden look more natural, wherever you live. The stones can be surrounded with ground cover plants to keep things lush, or set close together to create easy pathways through the denser surrounding planting.
Adding rock in your garden is not only aesthetically pleasing, however. The rock, like water, also has good thermal mass – helping to keep the surrounding areas a little warmer than they would otherwise be and helping you to create a micro-climate for tropical and heat-loving plants.
Prepare For Winter
Whichever plants and features you choose, and wherever your tropical garden is located, it is important to make sure that you prepare for the winter months.
While there are plenty of exotic plants that can survive winter in UK gardens, many of the plants you might place in a tropical garden will require some winter protection.
If you are growing in a polytunnel, you might need to think about keeping the space frost-free, or even heating the space.
While outdoors, you might need to add extra mulch around the base of plants, or cover them to prevent damage and keep them safe over the coldest part of the year.
Keep the above tips and ideas for a tropical garden in mind and you should be able to create your own jungle-like paradise, wherever you live.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.