Designing a Tropical Garden

Updated: Jul 9


Designing a tropical garden

Designing a tropical garden is possible even if you don't have much space or only have a balcony area. If you are anything like me and always dream of being in tropical rainforests, then here is how you can make a jungle at home.




A tranquil exotic garden ambience requires diverse leaf textures and colours. Large, bright foliage, extravagant flowers, and ornaments will bring it together. Use variegated foliage to break up green compositions and group plants with different leaf forms together to bring out the best.


designing a tropical garden

Taking care of your garden


To keep your tropical plants looking their best, dig a lot of compost or well-rotted manure into the soil. Organic matter will help your large-leafed plants stay healthy by retaining moisture in the soil. Compost or cow manure is an excellent additive to the garden in spring and summer.


Mulch around the plants with composted leaves, lucerne hay, or pea straw, topping up as needed to keep roots cool and retain moisture. Tropical plants need water, and if you have a hose with a mister on the spray gun, I find my plants love it.


Make a tropical garden indoors


designing a tropical garden

If you don't have a yard or balcony don't let it stop you from creating a tropical paradise. A room full of exotic plants and orchids will do the trick. Here are some ideas from one of the other posts on this site regarding decorating your home in jungle style.


Layer your plants


Tropical gardens are dense, so be generous with planting to bring a lush appearance. Use variegated foliage to break up green compositions and group plants with different leaf forms together to bring out the best.


Begin with a larger canopy of trees and palms that produce a warm microclimate while providing shade and shelter for the lower plants. Shrubs and tall perennials make up the middle layer, while low growers offer a variety of leaf textures and colours on the ground.


design a tropical garden

Use a wide variety of textures, shapes and colours. Most rainforests are green. However, it is not unusual to find colourful fungi and plants.


Any tree in the high canopy can be used with palms, towering tree ferns, and tall shrubs.


Suggested plants for the top and middle layer

  • Banana tree (top)

  • Golden cane palm (top)

  • Kentia palm (top)

  • Majestic palm (top)

  • Alexandra palm (top)

  • Frangipani (top)

  • Lilly pilly (top)

  • Ivy (on walls and ground)

  • Canna Lily (middle)

  • Hibiscus (middle)

  • Exoctic colourful plants (middle and ground)

  • Clustered parlour palm (middle)

  • Elephants ear (middle)

  • Blue ginger (middle)

  • Lady's palm (middle)

  • Ivy (ground)

  • Orchids (ground)

  • Bromeliads (ground)

  • Ferns (ground)

  • Coleus (ground)

  • Impatiens (ground)

  • Clivia (ground)

frangipani for tropical gardens

Dense planting on the lowest layer contributes to the lush feel of a tropical-style garden.


Attach bromeliads, Spanish moss, epiphytic orchids, and staghorn or elkhorn ferns to trees to complete the effect.


design a tropical garden

Pond

A pond is an essential component of the tropical aesthetic. You'll also benefit from the relaxing sound of running water if you install a fountain.


However, if space is limited, consider planting a water bowl. Lotus plants and water lilies thrive in deep water, whereas other plants thrive with the pot's lip above the water level.


Standing the pots on bricks or an empty upturned pot in the base of the water container will give them the proper height.


Create an imitation stream bed with pebbles and boulders, softening the edges with overhanging plants if a pond isn't an option.


Plant pots made of stone or terracotta, predominantly weathered, contribute to the tropical feel. You can hasten the ageing process by painting them with a diluted yoghurt solution.


Plant colourful dwarf bougainvillaea, New Guinea impatiens, or tropical rhododendrons in the containers (Vireya Group)

Place ceramic urns among the plants and add figurines to finish the look.

tropical plant amongst ferns

Pathway


Any walkways you design should have a natural aspect of establishing a tropical vibe.


Stone pavers with gravel or small mondo grass interplanted or railway sleepers with pebbles or bark mulch look fantastic.


A slightly raised path made of timber decking boards always works nicely in these lush surroundings.


Furniture


Cane, timber, stone, and concrete furniture work well in a tropical garden, so pair it with plenty of cushions.




Add a daybed to create a relaxing spot where you can appreciate your lush new garden.


Timber benches, seats, and tables can be left unpainted for a more natural aesthetic or painted brightly for a more exotic appeal.


Bamboo screens are perfect for hiding ugly walls or fences.


bamboo screen

Cool-climate planting


You can still design a tropical-style garden in a cool, frost-free or temperate climate. It doesn't matter if the plants you choose aren't tropical, as you can still make a lush garden with shade plants. Choose plants with big colourful leaves.




Tall tree ferns and Abyssinian banana provide height and shade, while Lilly pilly, Magnolia 'St Mary', Michelia alba, and clumping bamboo are useful for screening.


blue ginger

Second layer plants could be:

  • Flax

  • Yucca

  • Cane begonia

  • Fatsia japonica,

  • Ginger lily

For the ground:

  • Impatiens

  • Ferns

  • Helleborus

  • Lily

  • Bromeliad

You could also craft a greenhouse or mini greenhouse for a verandah to house your plants and protect them from frost in the colder months.


flowers for a tropical garden

There is nothing more satisfying than having a tropical garden to relax in and bring back those fond memories of your holidays. You may also attract some frogs if you have a pond and a place for them to hide. Be mindful of insecticides, though, as they will be harmful to these delightful creatures.