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One of the most important elements of creating tropical gardens in the UK and cold climates is plant selection.
If you want to create a jungle effect, plants must be both cold tolerant and exotic looking! Fortunately this is not as challenging as you may at first think.
There are many plants which are perfect for cold climate tropical garden designs. Some of these include hardy palms from China, Cold tolerant perennials and tropical looking plants which are native to cooler climates.
With the correct plant selection, you can create your very own tropical paradise right within your very own backyard.
Check out these 40 tropical looking plants that will thrive in the UK climate and cold climates below.
Understanding the UK climate for tropical gardens.
Before planting your tropical garden, it's important to understand the climate and conditions your plants will be exposed to.
While the UK may not have the same tropical climate as countries near the equator, it does have advantages over other northern climates.
Due to the UK being an island it benefits from having a more maritime climate. This allows for much less volatile temperature extremes throughout the season.
Warm trade winds which blow from the tropics help to keep the winters relatively mild. Consequently you may have a greater choice of planting material than you think for your tropical garden.
Fatsia Japonica in a small tropical pot garden in the UK
Overwintering tropical plants in cold climates
If you want to add a greater diversity of exotic plants to your jungle garden consider overwintering tender species.
This can be done inside a greenhouse, polytunnel or even inside your home. There are many tropical perennials such as Cannas which are typical grown in this way.
When planting your tropical and jungle garden borders in cooler regions utilise microclimates to your advantage.
Microclimates are zones which due to surrounding features have differing climates to their regional norm. For example south facing walls or sheltered suntraps which are always warmer from the surrounding environment.
Tropical gardens in the UK and cold climates should be sheltered from strong winds particularly from the North and East.
40 Of the best plants for tropical gardens in the UK
1. Chusan palm
Also known by its Latin name 'Trachycarpus fortunei', this palm has a classic fan palm shape with tropical looking leaves.
Native to both China and Japan it can tolerate surprisingly cold temperatures. This palm is a perfect way to add height, elevation and drama to tropical garden borders.
The Chusan palm is extremely adaptable to soil type and generally widely available as a landscaping plant.
Cannas are well known for their bold leaves and striking, colourful, flowers. These sub-tropical perennials have foliage similar to Bananas giving them a realy tropical feel.
In the UK and cooler climates Cannas are normally taken undercover for the winter months. The perennial flowering plants then re-sprout from their rhizomes in late spring.
These exotic looking plants are perfect for adding height to a jungle planting scheme.
3. Ostrich fern
Also known as the 'Fiddlehead fern' this perennial fern is native to temperate regions of the northern hemisphere.
This attractive fern has feathery foliage which fits into tropical planting schemes very effectively. Originating from temperate climates makes it extremely hardy and cold tolerant.
Its ability to enjoy shady and damp conditions makes it well suited to jungle themed dense planting.
4. Paper plant
More commonly referred to by its Latin name ‘Fatsia Japonica’ this evergreen shrub originates from the East Asia.
Found in the temperate forests of Korea and Japan it has a natural tolerance to cold and shady conditions. Fatsia is famous for its tropical looking form and jagged, palmate leaves.
Growing to a height of around 2 metres it makes a bold candidate for a tropical garden planting scheme.
5. Japanese laurel
The Japanese laurel is an evergreen shrub with large, glossy leaves with a tropical look.
This shrub has decorative, light green speckling on its otherwise dark green leaves. Being a medium sized shrub with good shade tolerance it works well within a densely planted tropical border.
The Japanese laurel is also able to handle drought and cold conditions making it perfect for the UK and colder climates.
6. Plantain lilies
Most commonly referred to as 'Hostas', these perennial plants have large, exotic looking, leaves and attractive, summer flowers.
However it is the large leaves which are typically more sought after especially the variegated variety.
Their ability to tolerate shady conditions and periods of drought make them perfect for tropical garden, understory planting.
7. Japanese banana
Also known as the Hardy banana or Musa Basjoo, this banana has impressive, tropical leaves and a palm like form.
Originating from Japan it is thought to have evolved to withstand a greater range of temperature fluctuation.
This was probably due to Japans long land mass which spanned from a sub-arctic north to a sub-tropical south. This makes the Japanese banana the perfect hardy palm for tropical gardens in the UK.
However the trunks and foliage must be wrapped up every late October to avoid frost damage.
Lillies are one of the most favoured flowering plants for their magnificent scent and proportionally large blooms.
These perennial flowers have tall, erect, stems and long thin foliage. Although lilies look incredibly exotic they are actually very tolerant of a variety of growing conditions.
As long as they have well drained, fertile soil and ample sunlight they are happy in any temperate climate, tropical garden.
Crocosmia are a low growing, perennial plant with exotic, iris like flowers.
These plants have sword like leaves which can form lush and dense groundcovers within flower borders. The plants grow from small bulbs which readily divide every season.
Due to their bulbs storing moisture they are remarkably drought tolerant. This can make them ideal for planting in the front of tropical garden borders with a dense root mass.
10. Chinese fountain bamboo
More commonly referred to by its Latin name 'Fargesia Nitida' this is an attractive bamboo with fine textured foliage.
Unlike more aggressive types of ornamental bamboo it has thin, flexible stems which sway in the breeze. It can grow to an impressive height with gently arching stems which resemble a water fountain.
Its dense foliage with an Asian flavour makes it the perfect plant for a tropical garden border.
11. Tree fern
If you want your tropical garden to have a real jungle look, tree ferns are complete novelties. These tall, palm like, ferns bring a real sense of prehistoric wonder into the garden.
Most tree ferns originally come from New Zealand making them quite cold tolerant. However, these plants do require specific conditions to grow well.
Make sure you plant your tree fern in partial shade and make sure it gets plenty of water.
Tree ferns provide a bold vertical line to jungle borders which contrasts with surrounding lush green foliage.
12. Giant miscanthus
Scientifically known as 'Miscanthus x Giganteus', Giant miscanthus is a robust and perennial grass valued for its impressive size and form.
This grass has a tubular and fountain like, form which can grow up to 12 feet tall. Its tall foliage is very responsive to the breeze creating both movement and sound.
This giant grass has a very tropical feel and is extremely hardy and tolerant of different growing conditions.
13. Star jasmine
Star jasmine is an attractive, climbing plant with dark glossy leaves and typical jasmine shaped white flowers.
Although the flowers themselves are small they give off the most wonderful jasmine scent. This vine has a tropical look to it although it will tolerate colder environments such as the UK.
The best growing environment for star jasmine is a sunny position with a fertile but well drained soil. It is ideal for covering fences and trellises within tropical gardens.
'Gunnera' is an extremely impressive and architectural plant with very large leaves. The leaves are similar to leaves of Rhubarb earning it its nickname; ‘Giant Rhubarb’.
When established, 'Gunnera' looks rather prehistoric and fits perfectly into a jungle themed garden. Preferring a boggy soil it is very suitable planted next to tropical garden ponds or other water features.
'Gunnera' are susceptible to very cold winters but in a sunny, sheltered position will do well.
15. Spanish dagger
Most commonly referred to by its Latin name; 'Yucca Gloriosa', Spanish dagger is a tropical looking yucca from the South Eastern United States.
It eventually forms a robust central truck with dagger like, leathery leaves. During midsummer it throws up a vertical spike which erupts into multiple, large, flowers.
The Spanish dagger has an exotic look to it making it perfect for tropical garden designs in cooler climates.
16. Indian bean tree
Indian bean tree or ‘Catalpa bignonioides’ is an unusual tree favoured for its large foliage, attractive flowers and bean like seed pods.
This medium sized tree naturally has a tropical look to its foliage and is extremely adaptable. When coppiced or pollarded the tree generates fresh growth with exaggeratingly large leaves.
Such pruning consequently makes it look even more like a jungle species.
17. New Zealand cabbage tree
The New Zealand cabbage tree is a tall, yucca like, tree which has a vertical, palm tree like habit.
Originating from New Zealand this tropical looking plant has a good tolerance to cold climates. With its sword like leaves and attractive flower clusters it can become a real focal point.
In tropical gardens its light coloured trunk can create fantastic contrast against darker green foliage.
18. Elephant ears
Also known by its Latin name 'Bergenia', Elephant ears is a low growing, perennial plant with large leaves.
The leaves have an oval shape creating a tropical looking groundcover to borders. During the summer months Bergenia sprouts flower stalks with desirable pink flowers.
These plants are extremely adaptable and tolerant of partial shade making them great for dense jungle gardens.
19. Giant reed
Giant reed, scientifically known as 'Arundo donax', is a versatile perennial that is well-suited for tropical gardens in cooler regions.
This tall grass is able to thrive in temperate climates and can withstand excessive moisture and cold temperatures. Its dense foliage has an exotic feel to it with variegated varieties widely available as landscaping plants.
This can make it a popular choice among gardeners who want to create a jungle look.
20. Pineapple lilly
The Pineapple Lily, also known as 'Eucomis', is a beautiful flowering plant which has an interesting form.
Originally from South Africa, it thrives in sunny borders and has unique spiky leaves with tall flower spikes that resemble pineapples.
Its vibrant colours, which can range from white to pink and purple, make it a striking focal point for tropical themed gardens.
Not only is the Pineapple Lily adaptable to different types of soil it is hardy down to around -6.
21. Japanese anemone
The Japanese anemone is an attractive, perennial flowering plant which originates from eastern Asia.
Not typically associated with the tropics it actually originates from cooler, temperate climates. However in a jungle themed garden their large, jagged, leaves do provide a tropical look.
This plant can not only tolerate cold conditions it can also thrive in part shade, perfect for densely planted jungle borders.
22. Fingerleaf Rodgersia
Fingerleaf Rodgersia, also known as 'Rodgersia aesculifolia', is a bold perennial plant that has very distinctive foliage and beautiful flower spikes.
Its large leaves spread out broadly creating an effective ground cover within tropical gardens.
This plant can tolerate dappled shade making it perfect for densely planted borders. Its leaves look consistent with plants which grow upon jungle floors; needless to say it is quite hardy.
23. Canary island date palm
The Canary island date palm is a very distinct variety of palm with its broad base and large arching fronds.
This palm has a tropical and even prehistoric feel making it perfect for jungle gardens. Remarkably this palm will tolerate cooler climates as long as temperatures do not dip below -6.
There are actually some very large specimens growing in the ground in suburban London but may struggle further north in the UK.
24. Foxglove tree
If you are creating a tropical garden in the UK or a cold climate there is one plant you simply must plant.
The Foxglove Tree, also known as 'Paulownia tomentosa' is an or inspiring tree with very large hexagonal shaped leaves. When pollarded or coppiced the leaves become even more exaggerated making them perfect for a jungle effect.
Originating from China this fast growing tree is fully hardy in the UK and much of Europe.
25. Castor oil plant
Scientifically known as 'Ricinus communis' the castor oil plant originally comes from tropical Africa.
Its large, jagged leaves give it a real tropical look and can grow to an impressive size. In colder climates like the UK Ricinus is often grown as an annual by being sown every spring.
Its fast growing nature means it can soon become an impressive specimen growing up to 3 metres tall. However do bear in mind the seeds of the plant are poisonous.
Fuchsias are a group of shrubs which are widely planted in gardens for their attractive flowers.
A common theme with fuchsias is they have an arching or weeping form. This has made them popular for planting on top of raised beds or on sloping ground.
Although these shrubs are hardy their exotic looking flowers mean they work well in cold climate tropical garden planting schemes.
27. New Zealand flax
Commonly known by its Latin name 'phormium', this plant has spread around the world as a successful landscaping plant.
Its erect, sword like leaves come in a variety of colours, textures and sizes. Its architectural form creates drama within planting schemes and its tropical look allows it to fit in well to jungle like planting.
Phormiums are also extremely adaptable and cold hardy, perfect for the UK and other cold regions.
28. Fig tree
Fig trees are very well known for their decorative foliage and delicious fruits.
Originating from the Middle East they have a surprising ability to adapt to much colder geographies. However for more successful fruiting in cold climates a south facing wall is best.
In regard to jungle gardens it is the tropical looking, palmate leaves where they add the most value. Figs are a must have if you want to inject some great foliage to your planting scheme as well as some tasty treats.
Iris is an attractive, perennial, flowering plant which grows from a tuberous root system. With over 300 varieties this plant is diverse as it is sought after for garden borders.
Even though many iris are hardy of cooler conditions their flowers and foliage have a tropical feel to them. This makes them perfect for tropical gardens in cooler climates.
These delightful plants come in a range of colours and also bring some seasonal interest to the jungle border.
Native to Central and South America, Dahlias can bring a real sense of the tropics to your garden.
Originally brought over as a food crop this attractive plant is well known for its striking flowers. The blooms can come in a wide variety of form and colours.
This makes them an ideal candidate for adding some colour and interest to tropical garden flower beds.
In the UK they are not always fully hardy with tubers lifted and stored over winter.
31. Lilly of the Nile
Also known as 'Agapanthus' Lilly of the Nile is a perennial plant native to South Africa.
This flowering plant has an unusual form with a singular stem bearing a circular cluster of trumpet shaped flowers. These globe like blooms come in a range of colours including blue, purple, white and pink.
They have an exotic look making them perfect for adding height to tropical planting schemes.
32. Red hot poker
Red hot poker is also native to South Africa and has an extremely eye catching and vibrant flower. The tall flower stems support rows of pendulous and tubular flowers.
Unopened flower buds at the top are red or dark orange which as they open become lighter yellow tones.
The result is a flower resembling a flaming torch. This tropical looking plant is a great novelty within jungle planting displays.
Mahonia are a type of evergreen shrub which have excellent, architectural form and clusters of yellow flowers.
They have a palm like growing habit with glossy leaves and tall erect growing stems.
Mahonia’s low maintenance and tolerance to colder climates make it suitable for tropical gardens in cooler regions. Its exotic looking form and foliage fits in well amongst other tropical looking plant species.
34. Passion flower
Scientifically known as 'Passiflora' the passionflower is a climbing vine with stunning flowers and lobed foliage.
The flowers have the most intricate and decorative flowers which look very exotic and almost alien.
The passionflower is the perfect climbing plant for tropical garden trellises and structures. Once the flowering has ended the plant forms multiple, circular, fruits which also have aesthetic value.
35. Heavenly bamboo
Also known by its Latin name 'Nandina domestica', this bamboo like plant has decorative foliage and bright red berries.
Native to the Eastern Asia it has a tolerance of both wet and cooler climates. During the fall its foliage provides radiant autumn colour and brightly coloured berries which last into winter.
Heavenly bamboo can add an exotic touch and seasonal interest to a tropical planting scheme.
36. Calla lily
Calla lilies are herbaceous perennials that grow from rhizomes every growing season.
Native to Southern Africa these amazing plants have tropical like foliage and beautiful flowers. Their lush green foliage is perfect for block planting around tropical garden borders and water features.
In regions with very cold winters it is best to lift the tubers and store them inside every autumn.
Camellias are flowering, evergreen shrubs which originate from southern and Eastern Asia.
These plants are highly favoured in gardens for their dark green, glossy leaves and stunning flowers.
Their preference for dappled shade makes them an effective candidate for dense tropical gardens. Camellias can be fussy but are generally tolerant of cooler temperate climates.
Magnolias represent a wide species range of tree which has large glossy leaves and large flowers.
The flowers have an exotic look to them and are perfect for creating seasonal interest.
Most Magnolias are hardy of cooler climates and can make the perfect backdrop for larger tropical garden borders. They also have the added benefit of providing a pleasant fragrance when in bloom.
39. Boston ivy
Scientifically named 'Parthenocissus tricuspidata' Boston ivy is a deciduous climber native to East Asia.
Its native range means it is more than capable of tolerating cold and wet environments. The foliage has jagged, three lobed leaves which can form a dense texture to trellises and fences.
The foliage has a tropical look which turns bright red during autumn time. This climber makes the perfect backdrop and screening plant for tropical gardens.
40. Japanese blood grass
Japanese blood grass is an ornamental grass much loved for its striking red foliage.
The foliage is perfect for block planting in the front of tropical borders and providing colour contrasts.
This grass has a pleasant growing habit and provides plenty of movement in the breeze. Its dazzling colour makes it a real asset in a tropical or jungle garden planting display.
Thank you for reading our article on the best plants for tropical gardens in the UK and cooler climates.
Do you think I missed any plants? If so feel free to comment below and I can ad them to the list, Thank you.
For more information on tropical garden plants for the UK visit 'House Beautiful's article here.
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