Beautiful Tropical Garden Design Ideas

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You don't have to live on a remote island to feel like you're on a tropical vacation every day, no matter where you live. Design a lush and colorful tropical garden for your own back yard, incorporating plant varieties that will survive even in harsh, northern climates.

Getting Started

To start your tropical garden, you'll need to choose which area of your yard will be best. Understanding the needs of tropical plants will help you pick just the right spot. Typically, tropical plants do best in these conditions:

  • Lots of sunlight (at least six hours per day)
  • A southwest facing area of your property (For those living in the southern hemisphere, use a north-west corner.)
  • Sufficient water.

Finished Product

Most true tropical plants also require warmth, however, you don't have to rule out these species if you live in a region with harsh winters. The solution is to plant vulnerable flowers and foliage in containers that you can bring indoors when the weather gets cold.

To give your yard that natural island look, consider contouring your garden soil to create mounds before introducing your plant life.

Basic Tropical Garden Design Tips

You'll have lots of freedom to use your imagination when you design your tropical garden within some basic guidelines:

  • Tropical gardens are generally designed with an informal style.
  • Avoid leaving large, open areas.
  • Create narrow, winding pathways to feel immersed in paradise.
  • Arrange your plants close together (referred to as "full" planting), to simulate the lush growth of tropical regions.
  • Use natural materials for landscaping details and accessories such as gravel, wood, bamboo, stone or bark chips.
  • Accessorize gently to avoid island clichés and keep your garden looking like a natural tropical environment.

Ready for PlantingHardy Plants to Create Paradise

While you may want to incorporate some fragile tropical species in your garden, bringing the entire garden indoors each winter isn't practical. Here are some gorgeous tropical and false tropical plants that can make it through moderate to pretty intense winters:

  • Fatsia Japonica: Also known as False Castor Oil Plant, mature plants can survive down to about zero degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Japanese banana: These plants sometimes lie dormant in the winter but make it through temperatures down to about 18 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Yucca: Can survive temps down to about five degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Canary Island date palm: Although you may need to take steps to protect this plant during cold weather, it should live through temperatures down to about 18 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Gunnera Manicata: This plant sports huge leaves and will make it through severe winters at temperatures as low as -10 degrees Fahrenheit.

No tropical garden is complete without flowers. Some varieties you may want to add include:

  • Crocosmia
  • Day lilies
  • Euphorbia Griffithii
  • Clematis Armandii
  • Kniphofia (also known as Red Hot Poker).

Other tropical flowers including canna lilies, ginger lilies and passion flowers will enhance your garden, however, they'll require protection in the winter.

Features to Enhance Tropical Gardens

Once you've got your plant life in place, you'll be able to choose some complementary features to complete your tropical island look. Consider some of these ideas to enhance your garden design:

  • Hammocks:Take a blissful rest on a hammock with a cool glass of lemonade and your favorite novel.
  • Rocks: Use natural or manmade rocks and boulders for natural looking accents.
  • Water features: Invite the sound and sparkle of tropical waters to your garden with a waterfall, koi pond or bird bath.
  • Lighting: Illuminate walking paths and accent bold foliage with solar, battery operated or hardwired lighting.
  • Wicker or teak furniture: Create a comfortable spot for friends to gather with a tropically inspired couch, chairs and table.
  • Bridges: Footbridges over ponds or other areas add to the tropical fantasy.

Attracting Tropical Wildlife

A day in the tropics is filled with the sounds and sights of local wildlife. Bring your tropical garden to life with exotic birds, bees and butterflies. Bees pollinate your blooms, and most tropical flowers will attract them to your garden. To attract butterflies:

  • Avoid poisonous pesticides.
  • Let your garden grow full and a little wild.
  • Be sure your garden gets plenty of sun.
  • Plant long or tubular, nectar-rich flowers.
  • Place a shallow dish of muddy water in a sunny spot.

Delicate tropical hummingbirds don't have much sense of smell; they are attracted by color. Bright red and orange flowers are their favorites, although they'll visit just about any flower that offers enough nectar. You may also want to hang some hummingbird feeders around your garden. Here are a few other tropical birds you may be able to attract to your garden:

  • Mockingbirds: Attracted by rice
  • Yellow orioles, blue-gray tanagers and palm tanagers: Attracted by ripe bananas, mangoes and cherries.

Tropical Beauty Around the Globe

Even if you live in an area with cold winters, a tropical garden transports you to an exotic island paradise every summer day without having to leave home. Sit back and enjoy your little piece of heaven.

Last Updated: August 9, 2012
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About Roberta Pescow Roberta Pescow holds a bachelor's degree in communications from City University of New York, Queens College and is a freelance writer and editor in the NJ area. The author of "A Life In The Service" and "A Monster's Tears," she enjoys writing informative articles, personal essays, fiction and music.  Roberta is a proud mother of two. Her other interests include fitness, photography, sculpture and meditation. She is a voracious reader and holds a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do. Roberta enjoys decorating her hectic, but happy home and garden in original and affordable ways.  

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