You don't have to live in the tropics to enjoy exotic gardening. Gardening with exotics is something that can be done just about anywhere and in any climate. Simply grab some containers and begin planting. Containers allow those living in confined spaces or cooler regions to enjoy the same benefits as those having plenty of space or warmer temperatures. Keep reading for more information on creating an exotic garden.
Gardening with Exotics
The exotic garden can be grown strictly indoors or outside on the patio, where plants can be easily lifted and brought indoors once cold temperatures and frost are imminent to wait out the winter. Nearly anything will thrive in a potted environment and containers also help to control invasive plantings that would otherwise take over the garden. Some good choices include:
No room for a lush canopy of trees, try using hanging baskets instead, filled with ferns or sweet potato vines. Anything that gives the garden height will be effective. To create a lush, tropical appearance in the exotic garden using pots, simply place all the containers close together in one large grouping. If space still doesn't permit, that's okay too. One large container can still provide you with the same tropical-like effect. For example, place the largest specimen in the center, such as a canna, tropical hibiscus, or dwarf palm. Surround this with taller plants like blue flag iris, peacock orchid, or elephant ear. Then fill in with lower growing plants such as impatiens, fuchsias, and a trailing vine. The possibilities are endless.
Additional Plants for Exotic Gardens
In addition to those previously mentioned, there are a number of plants that can be used in an exotic garden.
- Hibiscus - Tropical hibiscus is a great plant for exotic-looking gardens with huge flowers in a variety of colors.
- Ornamental grass - Numerous types of ornamental grasses, such as canary-reed grass or papyrus, look right at home in an exotic garden.
- Bamboo - Bamboo is ideal within a tropical setting, regardless of climate, as some species are hardy enough for cooler regions. Some bamboo varieties like shade, others enjoy sun. Some species of bamboo are suitable for growing in pots, while others require lots of open space.
- Angel-wing begonia - Angel-wing begonia has extremely large foliage and flowers.
- Canna - Cannas are great exotic plants with their brilliant foliage and showy blooms. Use them in single-color arrangements throughout the garden or with other plants sharing similar shades.
- Calla lily - Calla lilies are one of the staples of exotic gardening. These beautiful plants come in many colors and look great as background plantings for smaller tropical vegetation.
- Peacock orchid - The peacock orchid has sword-like leaves and fragrant white flowers and fit right in with calla lilies.
- Caladium - Caladiums offer a wonderful array of patterned colors within their tropical-like, arrow-shaped foliage. Plant them in drifts throughout the exotic garden alongside hostas and Jack-in-the-pulpits.
- Elephant ear - What says exotic better than elephant ears? Although they tolerate shade, these tropical plants thrive in sunny areas with plenty of moisture.
- Crocosmia - Crocosmia is another great exotic for the garden.
- Bird of paradise - Bird of paradise is well suited for container growing. In fact, this banana-like tropical is a popular tub plant in many landscapes.
Don't overlook ornamental trees and shrubs like cabbage palm, bougainvillea, or cape jasmine.
Tips for Creating an Exotic Garden
Where and what to plant will depend on your landscape, but having an attractive variety will provide plenty of visual interest. Although not a requirement, exotic plantings appreciate ample amounts of sunlight. Consider maintenance, especially for plantings that require more care than others do. In areas with little rainfall, you may need to provide plenty of moisture, especially those housed in pots. When creating a tropical garden, an ideal grouping will include trees, shrubs, foliage plants, and flowers. One of the key features to gardening with exotics is using layers of lush-looking plants. So keep in mind that plants are more often grown for their foliage characteristics than their flowers. Begin with the largest plant or feature, such as a palm tree or a fountain. This not only acts as the garden's focal point but will also guide you in your plant choices and placement. Next, add some evergreen shrubs and taller vegetation, such as rhododendron, bamboo, and bromeliads. Continue working down in size, adding an array of forms, colors, and textures. Remember to bunch them up as well. You want all aspects of your exotic oasis to be filled with interest. For instance, think drama with bold, blue-green hosta alongside dark-colored ferns and 'Black Magic' elephant ears. Don't overlook the striking foliage color offered by fancy-leaved caladiums and coleus plants. Since tropical environments are filled with vines and trailing plants, consider incorporating some of your own climbing plants, like passionflower or golden trumpet; just be sure to provide them with adequate support, such as a trellis or similar object. Aside from plantings, garden ornaments and other features can enhance its tropical style. A water feature of some kind, be it a small pond or fountain, will definitely enhance the tropical atmosphere of your exotic garden. If your space allows, add a meandering path, perhaps even some naturalistic stones and boulders. With careful planning and garden design and with proper maintenance and plant selection, you can achieve an exotic garden in even the coolest of climates.
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Nikki Tilley has been gardening for nearly three decades. The former Senior Editor and Archivist of Gardening Know How, Nikki has also authored six gardening books.
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