Create a Mini Jungle
Amateur Gardening|February 06, 2021
Have your borders hit the doldrums? Ever thought of creating a tropical theme in one of them? Anne Swithinbank has some great varieties for you to try
Anne Swithinbank

YEARS ago, I landed the job as presenter of the Channel 4 series Gardens of the Caribbean and spent six weeks filming on six different islands, surrounded by tropical foliage and flowers. Soon after, we moved to Devon, and inspired by Caribbean style, we repainted a wooden outbuilding from an agricultural green to blue and cream.

Hardy plants are best

The slightly raised border running alongside was widened by moving a path and planted with a lush, jungle-like profusion of mainly hardy plants. It is still one of my favourite parts of the garden.

Now is a great time for planning, with time to clear a space, condition soil and plant in spring, giving slightly tender plants the chance to put down roots before their first winter. If one of your borders has hit the doldrums, a tropical theme could be the perfect fix. The word ‘jungle’ is an unscientific term used for an area of dense, luxuriant foliage, and seeking out plants with the right look is all part of the fun.

Unless you have a greenhouse and the willingness to lift, pot, and move tender plants under cover for winter, stick mainly to those hardy enough to stay outdoors. Be inspired by pictures of Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens in Dorset, Henstead Exotic Garden in Suffolk and The Exotic Garden at RHS Wisley.

Create a layer system

Whether jungle-like plants are growing in containers or a border, think in terms of forest-style layers, with a canopy, understorey and ground cover. Certain hardy, large-leaved trees make great centrepieces but need to be ‘stooled’ by cutting stems close to the ground every spring. Thin the new stems out and marvel at their super-sized leaves. The foxglove tree (Paulownia tomentosa), tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) and Indian bean tree (Catalpa bignonioides) are great candidates and all deciduous.

Give it an ‘international’ theme

Our planting consists mainly of evergreens including dark-leaved Pseudopanax ‘Sabre’, reed-like Rhodocoma capensis and spotted laurel (Aucuba japonica). From New Zealand, South Africa and Japan respectively, they set the scene for a truly international border. The understorey consists of hardy banana and evergreen Iris confusa at the shadier end and in sun, evergreen Kniphofia caulescens, posing over rocks like an exotic aloe.

Hardy plants for a tropical look

6 for flamboyant foliage

Eriobotrya japonica AGM

The sun-loving evergreen loquat rarely sets and ripens fruit in the UK but is worth growing for long lush leaves and fragrant white flowers in panicles. Try sowing the seeds from bought fruits. H and S: 12ft (3½m).

Darmera peltata AGM

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