If summer holidays to far-off places feel out of reach right now, maybe it’s time to plan for a holiday at home? Creating a tropical feel on your suburban patio isn’t as far-fetched as it might sound. There are plenty of exotic beauties that will flourish in our cooler climate, but still create that luxuriant leafy feel that will transport you far away on sultry summer days.
Layer up hardy plants up with frost-tender species that can be plunged (pot and all) into garden borders in summer. Plunging makes it easier to lift them later in the year when they should be brought back into the greenhouse, just as autumn begins to chill the air.
Add a few carefully selected flowering plants for a splash of colour, and suddenly you’ve created your own jungle planting scheme!
Hardy plants for structure
Some exotics are perfectly hardy, and these are ideal for creating the bare-bones of your planting scheme. These stalwarts will stay in place throughout the year providing a permanent structure.
Architectural evergreens, such as Tracycarpus fortunei and Chamaerops humilis provide year-round structure. Their enormous, fan-shaped leaves deliver plenty interest and create a fabulous canopy. Although tough and reliable, it’s worth choosing a sheltered spot where their large foliage is protected from strong winds, which can leave them looking dog-eared.
Fatsia japonica is another ‘must-have’ hardy evergreen with its large, glossy leaves that simply scream ’jungle’! Despite its leafy looks, it’s easy to grow and needs virtually no maintenance!
Cordylines and Phormiums boast strappy, linear leaves that provide a good contrast to broad-leaved plants like Fatsia. They come in a bright range of colours too, delivering an explosion of foliage that arches outwards from a neat, low maintenance clump.
If you’re about to embark on a jungle adventure, it’s handy to have a greenhouse or conservatory available. There are many frost tender species that will bring your tropical planting scheme to life, but they will need some winter protection.
The voluptuous foliage of a Canna, topped with its bright summer blooms can really make a statement. Overwintering is easy – simply reduce watering and bring them indoors to a frost free location (a shed or garage will even do the trick).
Callas (or Zantedeschia) make a great choice too and are easier to lift and store. In autumn, as they die back, lift the tubers from the soil. They can be dried off and stored in paper bags in a cool, frost free place over the winter, and replanted in the following spring.
Strelitzia is better known as the Bird of Paradise plant for its impressive bird-like blooms. This exotic perennial makes a magnificent pot plant for your jungle patio. From late autumn to late spring, it will need full protection in a warm conservatory or greenhouse – so before investing, be sure you have the space to keep it safe and snug during the coldest months.
A jungle planting scheme needs plenty of spectacular foliage to provide that characteristic, lush and leafy feel. Banana Plants (Musa basjoo) deliver impact in abundance! These enormous perennials grow quickly to the size of a small tree, their broad, lustrous leaves unfurling from an upright stem to create a majestic, architectural display. Although unlikely to fruit in our cooler UK climate, their distinctive looks deliver the sights and sounds of a tropical island as they wave gently in the summer breeze.
Caladiums are bang on trend right now! Forming a mound of colourful, heart-shaped leaves, they create the perfect understorey, thriving in damp, shaded conditions. Bring them indoors in winter and enjoy their funky foliage in your warm conservatory.
If overwintering Caladiums feels like too much effort, stick to quick and easy Coleus for your dazzling foliage! Coleus is just as colourful and can be grown from plug plants of even from seed each year, making a great alternative where winter greenhouse space is limited. At the end of summer, just add them to the compost heap!
Familiar garden favourites
Splashes of colour from reliable garden favourites can inject impact into a leafy landscape. A few carefully combined Dahlias how the power to deliver a rush of adrenaline! Few plants have such a diversity of colours and flower shapes so these reliable perennials are perfect for dotting among foliage plants to surprise you with their late summer blooms. Lift them in winter, or protect them with a dry mulch of bark chips.
If you can’t bear to be without a few hanging baskets then opt for Begonia boliviensis varieties. These trailing Begonia cascade with more subtlety than the flouncy x tuberhybrida cultivars. They are generally grown as annuals, coping well in sun or shade, and making a versatile addition to a jungle theme.
Don’t neglect vertical spaces! Exotic climbers will cover ugly garden walls and fences. Train them as a leafy screen to enclose your favourite seating area, adding privacy and creating a tranquil paradise.
Passionflower (Passiflora caerulea) is perfect for the job, with a vigorous growth habit that will quickly cover unsightly garden structures with a cloak of evergreen foliage. Don’t be fooled by its tropical blooms – this showy climber is surprisingly hardy in the UK!
Let the scrambling stems of Gloriosa superba meander among other plants. Its flame-like blooms will add dash of unexpected colour. Each leaf has an intriguing tendril that helps it cling to its supports. This tropical climber does need warmth to start the tubers into growth, so it’s best potted up in spring and grown on a windowsill indoors until all risk of frost has passed. In autumn, simply lift the tubers, dry it off and store it for the following year.
Creating your own tropical getaway isn’t difficult if you have a sheltered, sunny spot in the garden. Once you’ve grown just a few of these exotic beauties you’ll find yourself adding more to your display each year – they are more addictive than you might realise!
Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman’s nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online. I have a keen interest in drought resistant plants and a passion for perennials, particularly hardy Geraniums. I previously stood as regional secretary for the International Plant Propagation Society which gave me lots of opportunities to see what other horticulturalists were up to in their nurseries and gardens.