How To Get That Tropical Look
May 2, 2023

by Kate and Len Lucas

Create a tropical oasis with our guide to selecting the best exotic plants for your garden

Creating the tropics in your garden is not as daft an idea as you might think. However, whilst putting it together won’t come with alligators and malaria, it does need some care and thought, as many plants that look magnificent in a magazine or on display, need checking to ensure they will suit our climate.

The plants we have chosen do have that Amazon jungle look about them because of their leaves. They will get more tropical looking as they mature and some will need protection in the winter. They can be expensive so are candidates for a birthday or special occasion. 

You will notice that bananas are not on the list, so let’s deal with them first. We don’t grow them at all because they get torn to bits by the wind, and it can be a real pain to keep wrapping them up and putting them away. And on a recent Gardeners World programme, Monty Don announced he has given up growing them. Have a go by all means, and if you do grow them outdoors or indoors successfully, then well done to you.

We have grown all of these ourselves and most are with us today. All of them can be grown in pots and the first four will need a sheltered spot if you grow them in the ground, and most are evergreen. 

Cyathea cooperi,
The Lacy Tree Fern  

Very likely a bit cheaper and faster growing than the usual antarctica tree fern Dicksonia.

Melianthus major

Not evergreen. We first saw this plant at Beth Chatto’s gravel garden in South Essex, where they have been in the ground for a long time and every year are given a thick covering of straw. We have one in a pot, which will spend the winter in the greenhouse. The leaves of this plant are absolutely magnificent. Not expensive for what you get.

Tetrapanax papyrifer, The Chinese Rice Paper Plant

Not evergreen. The leaves really are the size of a dustbin lid. We did lose the one we had in a pot and we’re not sure why, we are going to have another go.

Chamyrops humilis, Dwarf Fan Palm

This is a dwarf palm so ideal if you don’t have the space for the next one. 

These five are described by the Royal Horticultural Society as hardy, even in a cold winter, so you have the option of either growing them in the ground or in a pot. We have grown these outside all year round, only needing some tidying up.

Trachycarpus fortunei,
The Chusan Palm

A genuine hardy palm tree and the one you see most often. All it needs is a monkey.

Yucca gloriosa “Aureomarginata”  

This is a golden-variegated form of the all-green species. We have a number of them in pots on the patio outside. 

Yucca rostrata

This is a new one for us and we have a pair in pots. A very attractive and striking plant with long thin blue green leaves and we really did check with The Royal Horticultural Society that it will be hardy enough to stay outside.

Gunnera manicata

Not evergreen. Ideally should be in a damp spot near a pond but it will work in a pot. Eventually, the leaves can get to six feet wide on stems tall enough for you to stand under.

Phormium tenax.  New Zealand Flax

The Maoris use this to make their grass skirts. In our experience, the hardiest is the plain green species where the sword-like leaves can reach six feet long. There are some spectacular coloured varieties, and here we would advise some caution as we have just lost two in the recent cold weather. We should have put them away for the winter.

If this subject is of interest to you, have a browse around your local garden centre when all the new stock comes in. Or check them out on the net to see if you like the look of them, and if they are within your budget. And last of all, The Royal Horticultural Society’s website will guide you about how hardy they are.