Tropical Garden

Transform your yard into a tropical paradise with a canopy of palm trees.

Do you have a special place in your heart for warm weather and the resort vibe? Want to recreate a little of that tropical flair that you enjoy while on vacation in your backyard? Why not plant a tropical style garden?

It’s possible to mimic the tropical feel even if you live in the Midwest; it just takes a little extra planning and a splash of creativity. The tropical garden is made up of big plants and bright colors; it’s just a matter of finding species that will work well in your climate. In these gardens, you’ll end up with a tropical feel even if the plants technically aren’t tropical species.

Tropical Garden History

Interest in tropical gardens has developed along with rainforest conservation efforts. Now, many zoos and botanical gardens feature native tropical varieties from Africa and South America. Some of the largest and most successful tropical gardens include the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, located on the Big Island, and the National Tropical Botanical Garden, located on Maui.

You don’t need to go to Hawaii to enjoy a visit to a tropical paradise, though. Many zoos feature permanent indoor gardens that you can visit even if you live in a in cooler climate.

If you have space a water feature such as this koi pond will enhance the tropical feeling of your garden design.

Tropical Garden Characteristics

As noted above, tropical gardens rely on bright colors and big plants. If you think of a jungle or rainforest, the plants aren’t meek little varieties that fade into the background. And in order to mimic that look, you need a lot of foliage to fill the space.

You still need to maintain the plants to keep them healthy, but otherwise you’ll want to let them grow wild. Let them crowd your paths. Plant varieties that will grow tall enough to block out the surrounding area so that visitors to your garden can pretend just for a moment that they’re out in the Caribbean somewhere.

Use hanging plants to give your tropical garden the vertical foiliage you would find in a rain forest or jungle climate.

You might think that if you’ve got a smaller space that a tropical garden is out of your reach. That isn’t true at all. You can still create a jungle-like atmosphere with a mix of dramatic colors and by filling the space completely.

Consider planting around the outside of a small patio so that you’ve still got room for a table and chairs. This allows you to use larger scale plants without crowding people while they dine.

You’ll also get a great jungle vibe by planting a few large species that overhang the table and block out the neighbors and street sounds.

Overall, you want the garden area to look as natural as possible. This means freeform shapes rather than geometrically perfect squares and straight lines. Naturally undulating ground as opposed to perfectly flat landscaping. And natural touches like rocks or boulders placed in beds or as seats along a long and winding path.

Plants should also look natural. By all means, prune them. Take care of them and keep them healthy. But if you feel the need to prune your plants into pretty shapes, tropical gardening may not be the right choice for you. Instead, let your plants grow lush and natural.

Tropical Garden Layout

  • Your layout should be as far from formal as possible. Twisting or winding paths, overgrown edges, and natural shapes in your plants each contribute to the tropical atmosphere
  • Pathways can be simple gravel or woodchip paths, or you can use stone or brick to create something a little easier to travel on
  • Even a small space such as this courtyard benefit from the tropical style of landscape design.

  • If you live in a cooler climate, plant perennials, trees, and shrubs that won’t die off at the first sign of frost. Then you can fill in with bright annuals once the weather is warm enough or use some pots to plant the more delicate species. These can easily be moved outside once it’s warm enough, and they also give the added benefit of a little tropical flair when you move them inside for the winter
  • Within each bed, mix and match the plants. Again, you’re not looking for formal beds with the largest plants in a nice straight line in the back of the bed. Think of how plants naturally spread; plant them in smaller clumps and really mix up the colors, sizes, and textures to make each bed as lush as possible
  • Don’t forget to make the most of your furnishings too. Low key or country style accessories and furnishings aren’t going to work well at all. If your space permits, create an opulent outdoor room, complete with pillows in an outdoor fabric, tiki lamps for light and ambience, or hanging lanterns

Plants to Use in a Tropical Garden

When it comes to a tropical garden, you want to fill the space as best you can. Choose big plants: i.e. tall or wide species. A combination of the two will create a nice jungle-like atmosphere.

Use Tiki torches to give your tropical landscape the feeling of Polynesia!

Species with large leaves are also a good choice. This doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to select some smaller blooms by any stretch of the imagination, but a garden full of small plants isn’t going to quite capture that tropical feel.

The next thing to consider in terms of plant selection is color. Color doesn’t just have to be limited to blooms, although of course those will be very important in your tropical garden. Plants like coleus have colored foliage that holds up well in cooler climates and injects a lot of color.

When it comes to selecting colors for flowers and plants in a tropical garden, a wide variety works best. Mixing bright, vibrant tones like kiwi, bright red, orange, and purple is a good choice.

Some popular choices for a Tropical Garden include:

  • Arum
  • Begonia
  • Canna
  • Coleus
  • Dahlia
  • Fern
  • Magnolia
  • Nasturtium
  • Palm
  • Salvia
  • Sedum

Add a small outdoor firepit to give your tropical landscape wartmth and light in the evenings.

Tropical Garden Accessory Suggestions

Some accessory ideas to integrate into your Tropical Garden include:

  • Give your dining area a little Tiki Hut flair with grass skirts and Tiki masks
  • Add a fire pit (check out your local regulations to find out what’s acceptable and what isn’t)
  • Set out some teak furniture with plush cushions and plenty of table space for drinks and snacks

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