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Create an exotic garden… bring the tropics to your back yard

Flowers, palms and ferns create an exotic garden even when not in the tropics

What if you turned your garden into a year-round exotic holiday setting? Growing an exotic garden lets you travel between continents without even leaving your home.

XXL-sized leaves, original flowers and colors, these 8 tips will lead you to landscape the perfect exotic garden.

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Palms and bananas!

What’s more exotic than a coconut tree? Many people would love to grow a palm tree in their own garden, and there are actually quite a few species that grow very well in our areas. That’s the case for Trachycarpus fortunei and Wagnerianus, both of which boast large fan-like leaves.

Palm leaves and fruit of a hardy but tropical-like palmThese two species resist temperatures as cold as 5°F (-15°C), so they aren’t just for warm southern states at all! For a true tropical landscape, avoid planting just one palm tree, all alone in the middle of the garden: it’ll seem totally out of place. Nearby, go ahead and adjoin a Japanese banana tree (Musa basjoo) that unfurls huge leaves and is just as hardy as your Trachycarpus.

Impressive flowers

Impressive flowers like this khiphofia turn a drab garden into an exotic wonderCan’t have an exotic garden without surprising and colorful flowers! Kniphofia is perfect for this! This perennial, 3 feet tall, has towering yellow, orange or red floral scapes. Some of the varieties are hardy and do very well in part shade.

Great when paired with Grevillea rosmarinifolia. As the name shows, the leaves of this flower shrub look like those of rosemary. Decorating the branches in season are red flowers with long petals and stamens that curl back. A definite botanical curiosity!

Cactus and succulents

Two options for an exotic garden: on the one hand, a tropical scenery with lush, humid-climate growth, and on the other hand a dry, desert-like xeriscape. Well, no surprise there: cactus are clearly in option 2! Hanging succulent with flowers in a chain-held potThese very ornamental plants do indeed make you feel like you’re not only on another continent, but even at times another planet! It’s perfectly possible to create a fabulous garden bed with purely cactus and succulents. The advantage is that it will only need very little care, and they’ll occasionally flower, too.

Set up agave and aloe. These fleshy leaf plants have long rosette-forming leaves with a sharp, pointed tip. Be they green, variegated or blueish, they grow from 1 to 5 feet tall. Some species are hardy down to 5°F (-15°C), but others fear freezing, so check first. What they all have in common is that they love dry soil and hate moisture. Plant them near a Cylindropuntia imbricata, another special cactus that survives the cold.

Color! More color!

Bleeding heart has fronds of colorful flowersIn a tropical garden, you make the rules… let a little eccentricity steer your choices! In a jungle, vegetation is lush and abundant, never does a spot stay bare for very long. In your own garden, you can replicate this feeling of ever-present greenery by painting one of the surrounding fences or walls… green! It’ll practically look like you have twice as many plants growing. Another tip is to add flashy-color ornaments that will reveal the absolute lush greenery of your foliage plants. Pink, red, orange, yellow… Warm colors are what you want here, they turn the garden into a living, active sensation.

Jungle-like furniture

Bright colors of the cloth of a comfortable hammockAh, the sense of detail! Even your furniture can reflect the intent of growing a tropical garden. Wicker gives the place a native, tribe-like look. A colorful hammock throws you back to those days where you were also living the life swinging between two coconut trees… And flower-printed cloth creates yet more flowers for a jungle-like appearance. Use bamboo to build a pergola! This ornamental construction will make you feel like you’re Robinson Crusoe on his desert island. Toss in a few bean bags, tropical plant sculptures, the odd pineapple cutting, lights, a mirror here and there… Voilà!

Water is life

Water dripping from a bamboo tubeTropical gardens typically have humid air and mild temperatures. You won’t be able to actually grow a tropical forest in your garden. However, you can definitely add a small body of water to savor the sounds of trickling, running water. Fountain, pond, pool, spa, makeshift rivulets… possibilities abound to include water in the exotic setting you’re aiming for.

Large flower beds

Instead of lawns, growing beds extend deep into the distanceAn exotic garden only rarely has a lawn and hedge – those are typically temperate-climate stereotypes. So you won’t sow a lawn, instead you plan wide walkways out and line them with deep, staged flower beds. This is the way to go, because tropical plants sure gobble up space with those large leaves! Such large growing beds will completely change the perception of your garden, and they’ll block out your neighbors, too. And in place of lawn, try setting up a new open space: a terrace. In different spots of the garden, you can even recreate different garden spaces by constructing a low deck or a gazebo at each viewpoint… built from tropical wood, of course!

Humongous leaves

Plants with huge leaves that are nonetheless hardy include this fatsiaPlants that have huge leaves are the key to quickly changing the atmosphere. In full shade, Fatsia japonica has large evergreen leaves shaped like giant hands. Brazilian rhubarb has enormous tooth-rimmed leaves that grow up to six feet across (2m)! And a similar plant, Astilboides tabularis, has round leaves, with each one being up to 2 feet wide (60 cm). Last but not least, a special fern, Dryopteris wallichiana, has scapes that tower at over 5 feet or 1.5m. Read on for the next tips:

Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
CC BY-SA 2.0: Torquay Palms
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