When thinking about a tropical style garden, the first words that come to mind are exotic and romantic. Who wouldn't want something like that in their own back yard? Well, it seems there are very few such people, since tropical gardens have gained immense popularity and are still going strong.
Fortunately, there are a wide variety of ways to give a tropical feel to your garden and it does not have to break the bank or require huge maintenance. This is, of course, if you plan it well in advance and thoroughly.
There are many landscape designers here on homify who can help you with this entire process but let's first just take a look at what it will take to make your own tropical style garden.
Figuring out what the climate is like in your area is an essential step in realising a tropical garden. You may think that tropical plant could never grow in your area, but there certainly are some that would. You just need to determine which these are based on your climate.
Tropical plants favour a hot (typically 30°C) and humid climate, which usually allows it to flourish throughout the year. Most tropical plants, however, can grow just fine in any warm climate, although the growth will be less and slower, with less flowering.
The next essential step is to find out what kind of soil predominates the area for your garden. Tropical plants favour rich soil that drains easily. This does not mean that if you don't have this type of soil, that there is no hope for your tropical garden. Sand and heavy clay soils can be simply improved by adding a layer of compost or other locally available soil improvers. This layer should be about 15 cm thick.
The easy drainage of the soil is especially important, since tropical flora are not very resistant to harmful fungus and other pathogens that thrive in wet soil. Some tropical plants prefer coarse, mulch soil, but any type which drains easily will do.
Your best option is the apply a organic nitrogen- rich fertiliser followed by a 15 cm thick layers of mulch, and water heavily. After about 2 weeks the fertiliser will start to break down into the soil providing all necessary nutrients and microbes, ensuring that you are ready for planting.
To obtain a tropical garden, you will have to have plants which adhere to this genre. Not all tropical plants will grow in your region though, but this does not mean that you can't achieve the tropical style. In South Africa we do have plants that also grow in tropical areas, but there are also those plants which simply have a tropical aesthetic and is completely suited to the climate and environment.
For shrubs and understorey species, think of hibiscus, fern (pictured),orchid and bromeliad species which are indigenous to South Africa. These specimens are beautiful and certainly tropical-looking.
Strelitzias have long been a favoured South African garden addition, and it is also an ideal element of a tropical style garden in your own back yard.
The next step is to plan the layout of your garden area – structural elements and where all of the different plants will go. This is an essential step, as you need to make provision for which plants flourish in either sunny or shaded areas, for where water sources will be and which plants need to be closest to it, as well as structural elements of your garden.
You must keep the goal of the garden in mind when planning for it. Will it be purely decorative? Or is it for children and pets to play and run around in? This will have a big impact on your garden's design.
Practicality and functional use is key to the planning of a tropical garden. Although an extensive grass lawn is a nice addition for example, it might not be practical or ethical in a dry area with water restrictions.
Many tropical plants will require shade, as this is the natural state of its original environment. When you have chosen your plants and have determined that they do indeed require a degree of shade, make sure you establish shade covering before you start with the plants. This can be achieved by planting drought-proof trees which also contribute to the tropical aesthetic, such as Frangipani or Desert Palms.
If you choose other trees for shading, just ensure that they are not alien or invasive species, which will not only be illegal, but may be a big drain on your water sources and ultimately, your pocket. This may also harm the other plants in your garden.
In both hot or temperate climates, there might be strong winds. For this reason it is necessary to consider installing fencing or hedges to protect your tropical plant section from such winds.
Consider using living screens for protection. This will not only be functional and more environmentally friendly, but it will also add to the aesthetic of your garden. Good options for this is bamboo, bougainvillea and hibiscus.
Plants that are very susceptible to strong winds should actually not even be considered, as it will still fail to thrive although there is protective hedging or screens. This is especially true of banana species.
Make sure not to install too rigorous hedges or screens, though, since most plant species still require a level of air movement to build hardwood (for structurally sound branches) and to keep mildew at bay.
Investing in brightly-coloured decorative items and Asian inspired statues or artwork can contribute greatly to the tropical garden aesthetic.
Simple rock features can also make a world of difference. If you have natural stone but it seems too boring, you can simply cover it in a layer of glue followed by a layer of interestingly coloured sand in red, charcoal and ochre. These tones of rocks are found naturally in tropical environments.
Water features always provide a sense of tranquillity synonymous with tropical areas, and can be a good alternate option. Torches and lanterns can also be a quick-fix to garden decoration, as it provides an immediate tropical atmosphere.
As with any other design of garden, a tropical one will require a degree of maintenance. On a regular basis, you will have to ensure the removing of old palm fronds and flower heads, with some occasional pruning. Pruning should not, however, be done just before or in winter time, as this can be fatal to the plants.
The mulch levels will have to be refreshed only once a year if done so vigorously.
Make sure you maintain clean edges and borders to your garden to ensure a tropical resort type of look.
A great tip for good maintenance and sustainability is to place the leave prunings, old fronds and flowers on the lawn just before you cut the grass. With the lawnmower's grass catcher, you can cleverly dispose all of this material in a compost heap.
For more garden inspiration, you might like to check out: Have Your Own Holistic Garden.