Wednesday, 6th December 2023

Tropical garden in any space or climate

By Sereba Agiobu-Kemmer
08 July 2017   |   4:26 am
The passion and romance of the tropics add drama and dimension to elegant homes, and creativity to commercial areas. Creating a feeling of lushness intermingled with pops of bright color is the real secret to achieving that tropical aesthetic.

The passion and romance of the tropics add drama and dimension to elegant homes, and creativity to commercial areas. Creating a feeling of lushness intermingled with pops of bright color is the real secret to achieving that tropical aesthetic.

If you want to feel like you are in a rainforest or jungle – like you are one with nature, here are suggestions on how to bring the beauty of the equatorial forest to any spaces by incorporating elements of tropical garden design:

A Designer’s Paradise
To create a lush jungle-like feel, use the technique of dense plantings, which means putting lots of plants into a small space. This can be applied around the borders of your backyard or small courtyard for a more private enclosed aesthetic, producing a living wall effect. Keep in mind that the texture of plants can enhance perception of scale; rougher plants appear closer, while finer-looking plants exaggerate distance. Isolating an individual plant will create drama and draw the eye, especially in brightly colored planters; this is a great way to emphasize a doorway or gate.

The saying, ‘fill, thrill and spill’ is another idea to keep in mind when using planters.
One suggests a combination like Jelly palm to fill vertical space, hibiscus to add beauty and sweet potato vine to spill with its electric green hue. Color plays a vital part when building a tropical ambiance—vibrant foliage and bright flowers evoke the feelings of the rainforest. Think pinks, purples and whites are a must in giving the allusion of a tropical hide-away. When creating these designs, think of places like the Equatorial Rainforest of Southern Region of Nigeria, Southern America, Southeast Asia, Hawaii,
Carribbean islands.

Whether you chose a symmetrical design, which is more traditional, or the more artsy asymmetrical take, rhythm and harmony play an important role, giving your landscape a pleasing and finished appearance. Rhythm is the movement of the eye across repeated features; this can be achieved through repetition or even graduation in sizes. A larger pot grouped with containers of descending sizes or an alternating repeat of two different plants looks nice on steps or along a walking path. Unity is accomplished by using similar colors, shapes or textures throughout a layout; use this element to define a sitting area.

Get the Real Story
In the tropics, plant life is so dense that they grow in layers. The vegetation at ground level is called the “understory” and as such, can tolerate very low light, while palms reach to the sun. The over story of tall palms to the understory really creates that ambiance of texture and feeling. Create this exotic look in your own yard by planting in bundles with two or more different plants of varying height. This is particularly fetching around a tree or in the aforementioned planters. Foliage plays a huge part in these designs. Select a plant to be star of the show such as agave, yucca or cacti, adding some hibiscus or fern. Crocosmias offer an exciting pop of color with their orange-red flowers that dangle along the stem and look fetching with an under plant of cannas.

Planning a tropical garden is much the same as planning other types of gardens. You want to think about layers of plants, including trees, shrubs, flowers and ornamental grasses.

Dense planting is key, so select plants that will give you a range of heights, from tall trees right down to ground-hugging plants. Once you have decided on your framework, varied foliage and exotic flowers will add a carnival feel.

Add depth with a mix of leaf shapes and colours. Half-hardy Musa basjoo, or Japanese banana, with its long paddle-shaped leaves, contrasts well with broad Gunnera manicata (Chilean rhubarb) or the dark palmate leaves and creamy white flowers of Fatsia japonica. Shade-loving ferns and hostas make excellent ground cover while grasses, such as Carex comans, add variety, texture and an almost ghost-like quality as they sway in the wind.

Palm trees are probably the classic tree that everyone thinks of when they think of the tropics, but there are many other options for trees, such as: Citruses, Banana, Frangipani, Money tree, Avocado, African tulip tree, Rubber tree or other ficus plants.
There are many other options depending on your space constraints, your budget and the look you are going for. There are even ornamental fruit trees that can be kept in containers if your space is very small.

The next layer for your garden is shrubs and vines. Again there are many, many options, but here are some that are most readily available: Gardenia, Hibiscus, Croton, Jasmine, Fire bush, Oleander, Yucca, Saw palmetto, Bougainvillea, Jade vine, Coral vine, Philodendron, Passion vine, Ipomoea.
If you are working with an extremely small landscape, you might omit shrubs and opt for a couple of vines on trellises to give height if you are not using trees.

For most people the reason to plant a tropical garden is for the wonderful flowers. Orchids are the plants that immediately spring to mind, but they are pretty high-maintenance and not every gardener is willing to devote the time to these beauties that they really need.
Fortunately there are many other options when it comes to tropical flowers: Lily, African violets, Begonias, Salvia, Petunias, Lemon grass, Lobelia, Ferns, Cannas, Gardenias, Bird of paradise, Fringe flower.

While not all of these are considered tropical plants, their bright colors and fun forms will add interest to a tropical garden.
To make your small garden harmonious, plant masses of just a few different kinds of flowers. You can make it look wilder by choosing a variety of plants in the same color scheme-or that don’t match at all, whatever suits you! Use bright flowers to add vibrancy and lift the green hues of your tropical garden. But don’t feel you have to stick to tropical varieties – here a mix of flowers that wouldn’t normally grow together can really look effective. Try exotic canna alongside dahlias and lobelia showy agapanthus, jasmine, honeysuckle and hibiscus.

The final element of a small tropical garden is completely optional, but ornamental grasses add nice texture to a small garden. They also add color when the flowers aren’t blooming.

For a small space, choose just one type of grass and repeat it around your tree or in the front of your garden bed.
Sun, Heat, Humidity.

Tropical plants thrive in heat and humidity, so it’s best to site a tropical garden where warmth multiplies. In regions with a short growing season, a full-sun setting surrounded by heat-retaining surfaces like concrete, walls or buildings, helps tropical garden designs achieve their full potential. In warmer regions, heat plus direct sun can burn plantings. Find the right conditions and location for your tropical garden.

Most tropical plants crave moisture, and the more you give them, the bigger they will grow. Create a tropical garden design near a water source, so you won’t have to drag a hose to the garden during the dry seasons.

Water is critical for tropical plants in containers. During peak summer heat, be sure to check soil daily for dryness, and water as needed. Some tropical plants need so much water that it’s best to slip pots into deep saucers or tubs that you can top off as needed. Be sure to treat any standing water with Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis granules to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.

Water Feature
The sound of trickling water is a classic attribute of tropical settings, so plan to include a water feature in your tropical garden design. Choose a simple wall or free-standing fountain, or invest in a water garden that can host potted tropical plants

like Egyptian papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), elephant ears, arrowheads (Colocasia spp.), bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia reginae) or canna lilies (Canna spp.).

Choose natural materials for the structural elements of your garden rather than hard landscaping that would look out of place in a tropical setting. Recreate wooden walkways through the lush vegetation with bark or timber paths that lead to a simple wooden gazebo or arbor in the style of a tropical shack. Red ochre gravel paths lined with birds-of-paradise ushering guest to secluded areas, lush with tropical plants, will seem like a piece of paradise. Display pots of exotic plants on decking and conjure up the drama of dark tropical nights with lighting. An uplighter can emphasize a special tree or the fronds of a fern, while spotlights shining through the foliage will create spectacular shadows. Hang lanterns in your seating area. A hammock or rope swing provides island-style seating, and complete the picture with rattan-style furniture for equatorial ambience. For more substantial furniture, select teak or shorea pieces, which are weather resistant and are easy to maintain. Accessorise with cushions outfitted with sunny tropical and African fabrics. Pots of ginger or large hibiscus will lend the feel of Hawaii or Madagascar Island. With a little planning and creativity you can have a great tropical garden inside or out.

Containers Make Tropical Gardens Possible In Any Climate
Take account of your environment before selecting plants that will thrive in the provided conditions. Most tropical plants do best in warmer climates, like above zone seven. However, one should add that this look can be achieved outside of these zones by selecting plants that can survive a mild frost, such as the banana plant. However, if you live in a colder climate, the lush look of a tropical garden is not necessarily off-limits: The more northern climates will do best to create a tropical patio between the months of May and September.

Planters play a big part in allowing some versatility in your landscape, allowing tropical plants to be brought indoors during cold weather. Incorporating large urn planters and substantial box planters to give the space an enclosed feel is the best way to invoke that lush tropical feel. One suggests plants such as petunias, oleander and hibiscus for use in cooler environments. Soil selection is also important; it’s essential that the medium can drain easily. Most tropical plants don’t like “wet feet” or they will get root rot or grow mold. The use of pots allows you to be sure the plants are getting the correct soil. Mulch heavily to reduce the cold from reaching the roots and ensure excess water escapes containers with the use of ample drainage holes.