Throughout Australia’s coastal regions, there has been a growing taste for gardens that mirror the lavish settings of luxury resorts that we see on banners and billboards. From picking plants to much-needed maintenance, a tropical garden can be your portal for expressing creativity and drawing on inspiration from the last holiday you took. There are so many possibilities with this project! Follow the steps below to see how you can get started.
Creating your tropical garden at home
To make the most of your new tropical garden and create an exotic outdoor setting that makes the neighbours jealous, you’ll need a rich mix of colours and textures. Think large, flamboyant and eye-catching pieces that make a statement. These extravagant plants contrast against more formal pathways and neat, well-kept garden beds. Luscious palms, wooden furniture, patterned cushions, solar lights, and candlelit lanterns complete the tropical theme.
Prepping your soil:
Gardening for a tropical-themed garden may require a different approach, especially if you are in a tropical or subtropical region. Tropical gardening doesn’t necessarily require the traditional ‘dig deep into soil’ method; instead try simply layering the soil with compost or leaf mulch.
Leaf mulch is a concentrated layer of shredded leaves that’s applied to the surface of your soil, which works to enrich it and maintain its moisture. Leaf mulch also creates a solid weed barricade, preventing them and other unwanted grasses from sprouting, as well as providing insulation for your plants, wildlife and insects.
Layering tropical foliage:
Generally, tropical-themed gardens depend on foliage rather than bursts of flowers to create that prized look year-round. Aside from colour, plants should be selected based on their size, shape, structure and texture of their leaves.
What gives tropical gardens their lush look is the density of plants used. They’re often designed on a three-tier basis, beginning with an upper awning of tall trees and broad palms that create a balmy micro-climate, offering shade and a protective cover for the plants underneath. The middle layer is made up of shrubs and elevated perennials, whilst the bottom level, amongst the soil, is made up of low growers that provide the most evident contrast in colour and texture.
Grouping your plants with varying leaf shapes and colours often brings out the best in them and does a great job in breaking up the overly green composition of most gardens. You may even like to plant each flora species in groups of odd numbers, a handy trick used by many garden designers. When grown in irregular bunches, plants and garden beds appear more natural than when constructed in rigid lines or blocks.
Choosing tropical trees:
Achieving the optimal tropical look in your backyard wouldn’t be complete without perfectly positioned palms and bamboo.
Although they're often condemned for growing too large in size or blocking other scenery in your garden, palms and bamboo play an integral role in setting the style and mood of your tropical garden. Synonymous with dreamy beachside holidays, palms equip your garden with a fern-like ceiling, provide important shade cover, and creates an element of privacy for your outdoor space.
There’s no shortage of palm varieties to choose from; however, we recommend foxtail and date palms. The foxtail palm is a great option for group planting, sprouts green, feathery leaves and can tolerate drought and salt-heavy winds. The date palm is cultivated for its sweet, delectable fruit and, once fully grown, requires little water or maintenance.
REMEMBER, not all varieties may be suited to your particular climate or garden size, so bear in mind that smaller-growing species are a better option for average-sized courtyards and terraces.
Top 5 tropical plants:
(NOTE: The following plants are suitable to grow in all Australian climates)
Loved by all, frangipanis create an instant tropical feel in the garden. While the delicate pillowy petals reel you in, it’s the beautiful aroma that makes you stay. The large green leaves that appear underneath the flowers grow in abundance, and as the plant matures, its trunk will form a knotted feature in your garden.
To throw in a bold splash of colour to your garden, Cordylines are a fantastic option. Cordyline Rubra, Cannifolia and Stricta are household favourites and are best utilised planted amongst other shrubs in dense groups, allowing the variety in colour to pop.
With their neatly aligned foliage and wide range of colours, bromeliads are a unique and very fitting option for a tropical-themed garden. Generally, they’re inexpensive, easy to grow, require little care and maintenance, and will repay you with lasting blooms and decorative foliage. They also come in a wide range of sizes, from miniature to massive!
4. Flowering gingers
Not to be confused with the edible kind, flowering gingers are grown for their beautiful blooms and ornamental foliage. They’re popular in warmer, temperate gardens where their striking floral appearance goes on full display in several eye-catching colours. The majority are evergreen; however, some species will naturally deteriorate and regrow once warmer weather returns.
Symbolic around the world, hibiscus has emerged as a popular flower in fabric patterns, art, and landscaping, with its unique shape closely associated with tropical paradise and sandy beaches. No matter the species you’re after, each cultivates the pretty petaled flowers and elongated stamen that attract beneficial insects to your garden. Tropical hibiscus is deemed to be an evergreen plant with rich, glossy green leaves that thrive in warmer climates. However, in cooler temperatures, this plant can be treated as an annual.
What else can I incorporate into my tropical garden?
Water plays an imperative role in creating a tropical vibe. Whether still or running, its presence can induce peace and relaxation, attract wildlife and boost the value of your home. However, if space and budget are limited, opt for a water bowl over a pond or fountain. The most important detail to remember when setting up a water bowl is to position the plants at the right height when submerged.
Decorate your pathways:
When going for a tropical feel in the backyard, ensure your pathways align with the rest of your space and maintain a natural flow. Stone paved paths combined with gravel/pebbles and patches of interplanted grass look great, or even timber decking boards work well to create a raised platform. If your concrete pathways are unattractive and can’t be changed, you can lay material of your choice (grass/ boards) on top to conceal them from view.
Stone and wooden furniture all suit a tropical-themed garden. Unpainted wooden benches, stools, chairs, side tables and dining tables can create more of a rugged, weathered look, or you can opt for bright colours to create a livelier aesthetic. You may even want to display a day bed where you can relax and soak up your new garden and enjoy the island resort atmosphere they provide. To conceal any unpleasant walls, fences, railings or ledges, bamboo screens make the perfect mask.
Maintaining your tropical garden:
If you’re growing a tropical garden, then do as they do in the tropics! The best time to garden is early morning, prior to the heat and humidity of the day building up. While the plants you choose can determine how much maintenance work is required, it’s essential to prepare for all outcomes.
Planting and growing in warm, high-rainfall regions can equate to extremely fast growth, especially during the wetter periods. It’s crucial that you monitor your plant’s growth and maintain a regular pruning schedule to avoid a full floral takeover. That means a sturdy pair of secateurs is essential for tidying up any dead foliage, flowers or fronds. However, don’t pass up the opportunity to reuse that pruned material and return it to the garden as compost to maintain a natural cycle.
Aim to nourish your garden with a mulch mix of organic manure each spring, and ensure you spray all the foliage with Hoselink’s Seaweed Tonic Concentrate after feeding to keep your plants strong and healthy.