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Best tropical plants you can use to create a nice exotic garden in the UK

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Most people like the unique look of tropical gardens. The huge leaves and bright colors pull you away from your dull daily routines typical for the concrete jungle and teleport you into a relaxing environment worthy of royalty. The false feeling of escape and the need for a vacation on some distant island are the reasons why we love tropical look so much.

But what if you don’t live in an area in which you could grow this kind of plant? Don’t despair. There are ways to achieve that tropical look even though your local temperatures go way below freezing.

How to grow a tropical paradise in the UK?

You need to learn a thing or two about tropical plants before you start your search for the most beautiful tropical plant you can find. Growing a tropical garden that can survive in the British climate is not as easy as you might think. You have to choose your plants carefully and diversify your planting so the garden could really look like a tropical paradise.

And this comes from my own experience. My garden in London had been a real mess and I didn’t know where to start. This is why I had to call professionals. Those boys from HomeGarden took care of it and all of a sudden I had enough space to grow a jungle if I wanted… Ok, maybe I am over-exaggerating, but who cares? The most important thing was that I had the large enough backyard to finally start growing my own tropical garden.

However, before starting, I did a little research (it took me 2 months but “little”) and found out that the truth was really out there… so to speak.

The hard truth

The most obvious way to achieve that tropical look is to choose the plants that can survive in our environment… Or you can choose plants that have a tropical appearance but are, in fact not tropical. I am talking about plants that come from New Zealand and Japan. Those plants can tolerate the cold weather.

And which tropical plants can you grow in the UK?

I am only going to focus on those tropical plants that can (and will) survive the weather in the UK.

However, you should know that these plants are not really tropical… They will provide the tropical effect that you want. You can’t grow a true tropical plant in our climate. It is simply not possible.

The three most essential tropical plants you should be interested in are the Chusan Palm (Trachycarpus), Cabbage Palm tree (Cordyline Palm) and Banana (Musa).

Palm trees

This is an obvious choice for a tropical garden but you need to be careful because there are lots of palms you can choose from. You should look for the Trachycarpus palm tree (wagnerianus and fortune), the Chusan and Windmill palm tree.

By Shizhao - Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=385774

Wagnerianus

Trachycarpus fortune “Wagnerianus” is actually unknown in the wild. However, it may have originated and cultivated in Japan where it was first discovered by Albert Wagner, a horticulturist from Germany. The interesting thing is that Albert discovered this palm tree in 1873 and it remained in obscurity until recently when people started growing this palm tree in their gardens.

Out of the two best options of palm trees, wagnerianus looks best because it is very resilient to wind damage and it keeps its original palm-like look longer than other variants.

Chusan

The Chusan palm, dwarf fan palm, and Needle palm tree are the three most popular palm trees that can be grown in Britain. However, you should also know that:

  • You can grow palms in containers of John Innes No3 compost.
  • You can’t keep hardy palms outside on the cold when they are still young. If you are planting them out in the garden, then make sure you grow them in containers and bring them under cover during winter until they are well rooted in at least a five-liter pot.
  • You should plant them in mid-spring to allow them to establish a nice, strong root system before winter. And you should choose a well-drained spot for them that is well sheltered. Young plants can’t tolerate strong, cold winds.

Cordyline Australis

This kind of palm tree and its cultivars can be seen in the coastal region in Great Britain, especially near Cornwall and Devon. Its cultivars are especially interesting because of their colors. You can find them in many shades of red, creamy white, green, pink, etc. A cultivar named Charlie Boy is maybe the toughest of the bunch and can survive on temperatures below freezing – up to -9°C. It is also quite catching to the eye with purple leaves and bright pink edges.

Musa Basjoo – the Japanese Banana Plant

Bananas don’t grow on palm trees, you know? Even though they are often called banana palms. You can grow a banana tree in the UK but you won’t get any fruit out of it. They will only (maybe) produce flowers.

The most resilient out of all banana plants is the Japanese Banana plant AKA Musa Basjoo. They have extremely large green leaves that can also serve as an umbrella.

By Materialscientist - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11802987

Those leaves go away during the winter and as long as the winter is not too cold and doesn’t damage the stem, next year you will have a taller and stronger banana tree. And, by the way, this tree is the only “not frost hardy” plant that I grow in my garden.

You should grow this in a sheltered place, protected from the winds at all times.

Exotic evergreens

You can use evergreen plants to give a lusher look to your garden, even during the winter. It will also protect all the more tender plants you have in the garden.

Garrya elliptica

This is a beautiful and cheap plant. It is a fast-growing plant that will look like a roof to your garden. The tassels that hand down during the winter and spring will add to that “jungle” feel.

By The original uploader was MPF at English Wikipedia. - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Syp using CommonsHelper., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11670833

Ceanothus “California Lilac”

You can grow the California Lilac up against a wall or a fence and you will need no support.

Long Leaved Eucalyptus

This tall plant can be pruned to maintain a bushy appearance and some reasonable size. Some of its cultivars and subspecies like “Snow Gum” look tropical but can survive in temperatures up to -15°C.

Tropical Flowers

You can’t have a garden without flowers. You just can’t.

Arum lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica)

This flower is a semi-evergreen perennial plant with funnel-shaped white flowers. It has large leaves that can grow up to 40cm in length and flowers that grow up to 25cm.

By User:Fir0002 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=121087

Arum lilies (AKA Calla Lily) can be grown indoors during the winter. Just keep the soil moist, provide it with sunlight, feed it with a liquid fertilizer every month and re-pot it once a year.

Sophora microphylla Sun King “Hilsop”

This flower can survive on below-freezing temperatures (RHS H4 -10°C rated). Sophora Microphylla produces bell-shaped bright yellow flowers in late winter or very early spring.

Clianthus puniceus “Rosea” (“Albus”)

This strange tropical plant blooms and produces flowers during spring and summer. Rosea gives pink flowers while Albus gives white ones. Both variations are beautiful but very tender when it comes to cold and frost. RHS states that this flower is hardy to -5°C.

Birds of Paradise (Strelitzia)

This is one of the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen. It is a symbol of hope, success, joy, freedom, and loyalty in relationships. However, the strange thing about this flower is that it doesn’t have any scent.

By I, Brocken Inaglory, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2341086

If you want to grow one of these in your home, only two groups (out of five) can survive in such conditions – Orange and white (Strelitzia reginae and Strelitzia nicolai). The only problem in growing this plant indoors is patience. It will take some time (3 – 5 years) for this flower to bloom.




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