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Tropical Garden Design Ideas - Your Staycation Oasis! – Easy To Grow Bulbs

Tropical Garden Design Ideas - Your Staycation Oasis! – Easy To Grow Bulbs

How to Design a Tropical Garden

Most people will tell you that planning, growing and enjoying a tropical garden is all about achieving that tropical look.  But I think we should focus first on the feeling of a tropical garden, and to explore tropical garden design ideas.

tropical garden with water fall

Take a look at this tropical garden above.  Before you focus on what types of plants were used, just look. How does the photo make you feel?  Yep - me too. A tropical garden seems to reach out and call you, doesn't it?  It invites to you enter and feel a tremendous sense of relaxation and rejuvenation. Even a photo of a tropical locale is somehow soothing.  More than any other style of garden, a tropical garden will fill you with a profound sense of serenity.  

Key Elements of a Tropical Garden

Because the sense of serenity and rejuvenation is the true soul of a tropical garden, this design style can be adapted to any climate! The specific plants to use do not have to be truly tropical in nature. They just need to contribute to the look and feel of the tropical garden. No matter the climate, these are the tropical garden design tips to creating a tropical garden of your own.

  • Focus on the foliage. The main feature of the tropical garden is lush and lavish foliage in all shades of green, with a contrast of textures between large leafed plants, those with long slim fronds and the lacy look of the ferns.
  • Surround yourself with plants. Plant densely, on multiple levels from towering trees to ground cover to plants of varying heights. Use hanging baskets and/or raised beds and elevations to achieve a sense of a cocoon of plant life. 
  • Keep the colors vibrant. Flowers and cushions tend toward the hotter colors, bringing to mind the tropical birds that inhabit the rain forests that inspire this look. bright yellows, orange, red, vibrant pink - these colors provide just the right accent for your tropical garden. 
  • Celebrate the water. The abundance of large leafed plants implies a wealth of water. This is a crucial note in a tropical garden. Even more, the sight, sound and smell of flowing water is an important feature of a tropical garden. Size really doesn't matter here - if at all possible, add an element of water to your garden.

Photo by Cultivart Landscape Design

Plants for a Tropical Garden

Tropical garden plants, like plumeria, alstroemeria, bananas, callas, cannas, agapanthus, colocasia, pineapple lilies and caladium, can all be employed to infuse your garden with the wealth and wonder of a rainforest. In climates with a cold winter, each of these varieties can be successfully over wintered indoors, to return spring through fall to the tropical oasis you create. Each produces lush foliage in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors - a perfect collection for the tropical look and feel you desire.

But what of other plants that are cold hardy? If you are in a cold winter climate, you have hardy favorites. Many cold-hardy plants can find a place in the tropical garden.  

 Caladium rosebud is perfect for a tropical gardenhosta stained glass is perfect for a cold hardy tropical gardenCaladiums are colorful foliage plants native to the tropical rain forests. They are a perfect way to add flower-bright color to the foliage of a tropical garden. Hostas are colorful foliage plants originally native to northeast Asia. Extremely cold hardy, hostas make a perfect addition to a tropical garden in a colder climate.

Lily of the valley is exceptionally cold hardy, with wide, lush leaves perfect for the look of a tropical garden. Some ferns can take temps below zero. Japanese and Siberian iris create a cold hardy fountain of slim leaves, topped by colorful blooms reminiscent of butterflies. Daylilies have foliage somewhat similar to a palm's fronds and fits right into a border for a tropical garden. 

This photo below shows a garden entirely made up of cold hardy plants, that still gives the look and the feel of a tropical garden. Most of the color comes from the foliage. The plants are closely planted and multiple levels gives the look of being surrounded by lush plants. Vibrant red is the main accent color.  The large leaves of the design imply a good source of water.

Whether you choose all truly tropical plants or a selection of cold hardy varieties, the tropical garden is a design you can create and enjoy!

 Photo by Craig Reynolds Landscape Architecture

The many benefits we derive from the time we spend among plants are well documented. Time spent in the garden has a clear and very positive impact on us physically, mentally and emotionally. Time spent with plants is said to improve focus and to reduce our stress levels. Perhaps this is why the garden style that seemingly surrounds us with a cocoon of lush plants is so very calming and relaxing.  

Photo by Raymond Jungles, Inc. 

Just Add Water

To fully achieve the look and feel of a tropical oasis - don't forget the water! The inspiration for the tropical garden is the rain forest.  Adding a water fountain of some sort adds so much to your garden! The glints and gleams of light on the water are magical, as are the visits from winged wonders. The sound of falling water is widely found to be very soothing and relaxing. The theories for why this is true are numerous. Some think that evolutionarily, the need for water is so strong that the sound of flowing water is deeply reassuring. Others think this correlation between sound and sense traces back to the womb, when we were immersed in fluid as our senses first developed. Whether you find either explanation persuasive, adding a water feature to your garden is an excellent way to make the tropical feel come alive!

Water falls, fountains and ponds are widely popular. Their price ranges from little to a great deal, and there is a huge selection to choose from. There are many DIY tutorials for making your own water feature for the garden that are far less expensive than a professional installation. Go as big as you want or can, but also know that a small feature is all that you need to give your tropical garden its due.

This tropical garden added a "water feature" by creating a small river of blue stones. How clever! Stash a small water fall behind the foliage for the sound effect! 

There is so much to cover when it comes to tropical gardens - this is a subject for many additional posts to come! I would love to know what you think. Are your planning - or enjoying! - a tropical theme in your garden? Let me know of any questions you would like to see covered!

Happy Gardening!

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  • Kathleen McCarthy