Tropical gardens are becoming increasingly popular in Britain. Their exotic and relaxing presence makes us feel like we’re on holiday without even leaving home.

The plants are impactful and contemporary, but the overall feel is timeless, and they’re also really low maintenance.

Many tropical plants are hardier than you might think and will survive cold temperatures well. However, they cannot bear drought, so it’s important to keep them well-watered, especially in the first year.

The trick to getting tropical plants to work in your garden is to mix them with British plants. Create a framework using exotic varieties, and fill them in with plants like Carex, Astranias, Miscanthus, Hostas and Japanese anemone.

Plant tropical varieties in spring, so their roots have time to get established before winter. Here are my top 10 tropical plants:

1. Trachycarpus fortunei (Chusan palm)

A lovely palm tree with a stout, fibrous trunk, and huge fan-shaped leaves. Keep it sheltered from harsh winds and protect the crown with straw in cold winter weather.

RACHYCARPUS FORTUNEI (CHUSAN PALM)

• Sun – Partial shade or full sun
• Position – West, South or East-facing
• Exposure – Sheltered
• Moisture – Well-drained
• Soil – Sand, chalk, or loam

2. Chamaerops humilis (dwarf fan palm)

This is a shrubby palm brings a good architectural angle to tropical planting. They can be happily grown in a container or even as a houseplant in bright, indirect light.

CHAMAEROPS HUMILIS (DWARF FAN PALM)

• Sun – Partial shade
• Position – North or East-facing
• Exposure – Sheltered
• Moisture – Well-drained
• Soil – Loam

3. Dryopteris filix-mas (male fern)

This is a great variety of woodland fern, that is fully hardy and will survive everything except hot, direct sunlight. It can be used as underplanting of shrubs or as ground cover under trees.

DRYOPTERIS FILIX-MAS (MALE FERN)

• Sun – Full sun or partial shade
• Position – North, West, East or South-facing
• Exposure – Sheltered
• Moisture – Poorly-drained or moist but well-drained
• Soil – Sheltered

4. Cordyline australis (cabbage palm)

A popular plant, like a palm but with singular leaves. It is a woody shrub but it can be made into a tree shape by cutting out the lower leaves. Protect with straw and horticultural fleece if the winter is very cold.

CORDYLINE AUSTRALIS (CABBAGE PALM)

• Sun – Full sun or partial shade
• Position – South or West-facing
• Exposure – Sheltered
• Moisture – Well-drained or moist but well-drained
• Soil – Sand, clay, loam, or chalk

5. Hosta (plantain lily)

A very flexible plant that is ideal for partial or full shade. It gives great ground cover and comes in a huge range of leaf variations. Must be kept well-watered.

HOSTA (PLANTAIN LILY)

• Sun – Partial shade
• Position – West, North, East-facing
• Exposure – Sheltered
• Moisture – Moist but well-drained
• Soil – Sheltered

6. Carex comans (bronze New Zealand hair sedge)

This is a hardy fine-leaved grass available in a range of colours, from green and white to rusty red. Used in drifts, it gives beds an ethereal effect as it moves in the wind, bringing a soothing soundtrack.

CAREX COMANS (BRONZE NEW ZEALAND HAIR SEDGE)

• Sun – Full sun or partial shade
• Position – West, East, South or North
• Exposure – Sheltered
• Moisture – Well-drained or moist but well-drained
• Soil – Clay, loam, sand, or chalk

7. Athyrium (lady fern) ‘Ghost’

A great shade plant with soft, silver foliage. Its colour helps to break up dense green planting and it tolerates dry conditions better than a lot of other ferns.

ATHYRIUM (LADY FERN) ‘GHOST’

• Sun – Full shade or partial shade
• Position – North or East-facing
• Exposure – Sheltered
• Moisture – Moist but well-drained
• Soil – Sand, clay, or loam

8. Dicksonia antarctica (soft-tree fern)

This soft tree fern originates from Australia. They are usually evergreen, but the leaves may die back in cold areas. Protect the crown with straw held in place with wire over winter.

DICKSONIA ANTARCTICA (SOFT-TREE FERN)

• Sun – Full shade or partial shade
• Position – South, West or East-facing
• Exposure – Sheltered
• Moisture – Moist but well-drained
• Soil – Sand or loam

9. Zantedeschia aethiopica (arum lily)

The striking white spathes contrast beautifully with the glossy green foliage. This will grow well in a Mediterranean style garden either in flower beds and borders or in a container. Mulch in autumn when it starts to fade.

ZANTEDESCHIA AETHIOPICA (ARUM LILY)

• Sun – Full sun or partial shade
• Position – West or South-facing
• Exposure – Sheltered
• Moisture – Poorly-drained
• Soil – Clay or loam

10. Phormium tenax (New Zealand flax)

A great strap-leaved plant that is evergreen and can grow to 4m tall and 2.5m wide. It originates from New Zealand and is hardy in most places throughout the UK.

PHORMIUM TENAX (NEW ZEALAND FLAX)

• Sun – Partial shade or full sun
• Position – South, North, East or West-facing
• Exposure – Sheltered
• Moisture – Well-drained or moist but well-drained
• Soil – Sand or loam

Spring is here, see my post on spring pollinators:

spring pollinators
Spring pollinators

Or check out my Pinterest board for more ideas:

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Pinterest Board