Bring a taste of the tropics to your plot!
Around this time last year, I was lucky enough to host a fantastic gardening retreat in sunny Barbados, and I’ve felt inspired ever since! I loved seeing all those fantastic exotic plants everywhere, with their glossy leaves, gaudily coloured blooms and prehistoric plus-sized dimensions. They’re such a great contrast to all our (usually fairly dainty) UK garden plants – wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to bring verdant tropical island vitality to your patch at home?
In this blog, we’ll look at some exotic plants, trees and shrubs that can thrive in the UK climate, so you can have a go at transforming your garden into a botanical paradise. With a bit of clever planting, you can adapt the microclimate of your plot and make the most of the weather to provide for both tender and hardy exotic plants – just remember to check out the detailed requirements of each plant before planting them into your garden.
Tropical plants require good rainfall, warmth and irrigation to thrive, and they bring life and vibrancy to a garden with their sprawling, forceful growth habits. I love the relaxed holiday feel that an exotic border or corner can bring, and there are plenty of plants to choose from that can thrive in a less-than-tropical UK garden – here are a couple of ideas!
Bamboo: Phyllostachys Edulis or ‘giant bamboo’ is the largest bamboo to thrive in the UK, and the long, glossy stems and fine leaves provide a great structural backdrop. It’s fully hardy, but grows very voraciously, so provide plenty of space. Try green or black bamboo for some striking colour palettes.Chusan palm: Otherwise known as Trachycarpus fortunei, have large, spiky, fan-shaped leaves and provide a great tropical focal point, though they may struggle in colder northern gardens. Again, these are aggressive growers – try dwarf variety T. fortunei ‘Nanus’ if you’re short on space.
Bottle brush tree: These delicate trees have attractive leaves and gorgeous sprays of fuchsia blooms. Great for mixed borders in sheltered, warmer gardens. Just make sure to use plenty of fertiliser when you’re planting them out, water at least weekly, and prune back after flowering to maintain the shape.
Cider gum eucalyptus: Eucalyptus gunnii is a really hardy small tree with beautiful round, blue-tinged leaves that are perfect for screening. Prune regularly to keep a full growth of the attractive juvenile foliage.
Fruits & flowers
Banana: These trees have amazing, gigantic leaves and are root hardy to as low as minus ten degrees. Musa Basjoo (Japanese Banana) can grow up to seven metres high in full sun or shade, and can produce flowers and fruit even in the UK (a really fantastic sight!). Musa Sikkimensis is a smaller variety with much tougher leaves.
Hibiscus: These beautiful, sprawling shrubs are hardy and will grow rapidly left to their own devices, so try to keep on top of pruning each spring. In return, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful trumpet-shaped blooms in a range of dazzling colours.
Fig: Ficus are a beautiful large, structural shrub or small tree that’s hardy throughout the average UK winter, though in northern gardens may require a bit of extra protection. Take a deep breath near them when the sun hits those leaves – the scent is quite intoxicating!
Passionflower: This great climber has exquisite blooms that have to be seen to be believed! Passiflora will grow in most types of soil, and is best in a greenhouse in colder areas. It’s usually evergreen, but a
particularly cold snap will probably see the leaves fall off. That said, this is a great call for most gardens, and provides real interest in a plot.
Ferns: Feathery ferns thrive in shady spots, so they’re perfect for filling our ground cover and adding some lovely texture to your plot.
Hosta: Hosta have big, boldly coloured leaves that provide a great base for your exotic border of corner. Certain types also provide delicate bell-like blooms which are a joy, but beware of slugs – the slimy pests can’t get enough of hostas!