Subtropical plant ideas needed please

Hi all,

I live in the valleys in South Wales.  I have a sloping, south facing garden that currently holds a large shed near the house, a chicken coop & run next to it (going away from the house) and a 4mx 3m polytunnel at the bottom running east to west.  The garden is around 8m x 10m.

I want to run a path from some decking next to the house down to the polytunnel that snakes through the garden.  I'd like the garden to give the impression that you are walking through a subtropical area.

I am looking at plants that I can use for this effect.  I'm not bothered about flowers (I'm a veg man and have a wildflower front garden) but equally I'm not opposed to them either.

I've considered:

Acacia dealbata 


Cornus florida

Bupleurum fruticosum

Diosma 'Pink Fountain'

Melanoselinum decipiens

Pseudopanax crassifolius



Any help would be appreciated.  



  • Anything with big foliage Farmergeddon (like the name!) so Cannas, Ligularias and Phormiums  which all like sun, and Ferns and Hostas - which you can put in the shade of some of those. Along with the Ligularias, there are the two big foliage pondside plants - Gunnera and  Darmera, the latter being a bit smaller as Gunnera is huge and would leave a big gap when it dies down. I think it may need a bit of winter protection where you are. Some of the popular grasses like Miscanthus (tons of varieties) and Bamboo of course - but go for one of the clump forming types as some are really invasive. Fatsia japonica is brilliant for this and is evergreen. It  likes a bit of shade to perform well so tuck it in beside a fence,wall,or some other plants as you have a sunny site.

    There are plenty more but would need some time to think further! image

  • addictaddict Posts: 659

    Hedichium (ginger lily), Musa Basjoo (hardy banana),  Rodgersia aesculifolia, Aruncus, Zantedeschia aethiopica "Crowborough", Perennial Hibiscus (rose mallow) Eupatorium and last but not least Crinum x powellii. All have exotic looking flowers or big leaves or grow very tall. Most of them I grew in my garden as that was the kind of look I was after image 

  • FarmergeddunFarmergeddun Posts: 229

    First off thanks for your suggestions.  I actually missed hostas, ferns and fatsia japonica (I love this plant) from my list. I was going to use rhubarb as a gunnera substitute as I don't think I've got enough room -what do you think?

    There is already a 15 feet high cordyline palm in the garden and it currently looks very much out of place with the rest of the planting that was here when I inherited the garden.

    The Miscanthus could be a good screen between the paths.  Pheonix canariensis, although it has the exact look I'm after is not hardy enough unfortunately.  I don't have a greenhouse and although I am going to heat a section of the polytunnel this winter it will be to keep my peppers alive through the winter (I'm fed up of starting them off from seed every year.  

    Having never grown cannas (I didn't say no to flowers btw - it's just that they are not my driving force in admiring a garden) I'm a bit wary of the amount of work to lift all of the rhizomes in autumn.  I have a lot to do on my allotment plots at that time of year and the allotment always comes first.  I think I've added another nice to have -  low maintenance.  

    I've tried to grow Musa Basjoo for the last two years (in my previous garden) and it's died off in Winter even though I've tried to protect it - it can get very cold here.  My site is quite open and there are only a couple of places sheltered to the wind.  For this reason (until I had protection from established plants) I would be very hesitant to grow tree ferns either.  

    Hedichium is definitely added to the list.  There are a lot of lilies in the garden already (they are taking over) and I intend to move most of them to around my pond on the allotment as the frogs love the thick foliage.  Besides which my OH would not be impressed - she loves lilies (especially Zantedeschia aethiopica). I think I would need to see Rodgersia aesculifolia in the flesh as the images on google are not very consistent.  

    Aruncus dioicus would fit in very well and Crinum x powellii could be used too.

    Can anyone think of ground cover for the edges of the paths that would disappear into the foliage?



  • Lion SLion S Posts: 263

    Albizia julibrissin and Acanthus, especially the spiky ones spring to my mind. Eriobotrya japonica, Magnolia grandiflora, Pistacia chinensis and Acca sellowiana also have the look and feel of the subtropics.

    Albizia has been growing happily in my garden (well, this garden) for about 5 years now and we get winter temps around -20 here in the Netherlands. I do have sandy soil. In those five years it's canopy has grown to 2m in diameter

    For groundcover maybe Coprosma prostrata, Coprosma rugosa 'Red Rocks', Leptinella potentilliana or Leptinella squalida.

    Also think that some multi-stemmed trees ( Aralia, Koelreuteria) would look natural in such an environment. Maybe even Metrosideros excelsa would survive. Oh, and the beauuuutiful Duranta repens and some Aristolochia species as well....I'm sorry, am rambling away.It's such an inspiring project and I'm a bit jealous even, there are lots of these I'd love to grow but can't. Please, post some photos when the garden is ready. I wish you good luck and happy gardening!!

  • SalinoSalino Posts: 1,609've had plenty of advice so far, all I would add is that I wouldn't regard Diosma 'Pink Fountain' as a tropical looking plant.. it flowers in Spring with Azaleas and looks good with plants of that type.. rather like a small tree heath or conifer although nice weeping tips enhances it's appeal...

    you might like to look at these websites for inspiration from a gardener in Norwich, who manages to grow an exceptional range....


  • FarmergeddunFarmergeddun Posts: 229
    addict wrote (see)

    I grew this image

    I am loving those strange flowers

  • FarmergeddunFarmergeddun Posts: 229

    Flowerchild please don't apologise for providing me with plant options.  I know the look I want but not what's out there as I've never been one for gardening until recently. As for photos I might well take some as I'm doing it, but this is a long term project.  I will be buying everything as small as possible to keep costs down.  The garden is such a mess at the moment that I'm not bothered about instant impact.  This gives me another nice to have - fast growing.  

    Eriobotrya japonica - I really like that - especially the fruits (although they are unlikely to ripen)

    Albizia julibrissin - looks really good, might be a bit tender but I could give it a go if it's surviving -20.

    Acca sellowiana - good for the fruit (if they come) and the OH likes the flowers

    Leptinella potentilliana - I like that too, especially the fern type fronds

    Aristolochia elegans - I love the flower and the vine would be good for the perimeter if it was hardy.

    Salino - thanks for the links, I've never seen Leptinella potentilliana, but it's going on the list.  I saw Diosma in pictures mixed with lilies but looking again at it without flowers it does look a bit "cottage garden".

  • FarmergeddunFarmergeddun Posts: 229

    I have clay soil.  I will be digging in a lot of organic matter. Compost from my heap at the allotment and plenty of horse manure as it's free.  My only problem is getting it down the 20 steps from my front gate!

  • FarmergeddunFarmergeddun Posts: 229

    As for the rhubarb I have about 20 odd seedlings in the polytunnel at the moment.  Most will go to the allotment but I could put a couple in the garden.

  • The banana would also get shredded by the wind where you are FG  -in fact Cannas will suffer in the same way but I suggested those because I can grow them up here in the windy west of Scotland so I reckoned you could have them! Crocosmia is another plant which is tough as hell and can look exotic alongside contrasting plants like the Fatsia. The variety Lucifer has bright red flowers and is easy to grow so it would give a sharp burst of colour among the jungly plants with big green and purple foliage.  image

  • FarmergeddunFarmergeddun Posts: 229

    Thanks FG.  I have Crocosmia all over the garden at the moment and was going to recycle some of them.  

    I'm thinking of putting reed screen all around the garden as a temporary windbreak while the plants get established.  I'm not too bothered that it won't last for years as we have nasty chainlink seperating the gardens here.  

    There is a silver birch at the boundary at the bottom, do anyone think it would fit in with the planting scheme?

  • addictaddict Posts: 659

    Silver birch image Not really. Perhaps if you grew an exotic looking climber through it it might help. I grew Trachycarpus fortunei as my exotic looking tree. Had to protect it from cold while young but once 4/5 ft stopped. It is now a good 15ft and is great for a windy site.

    The mouse plant needs moist soil and will work brilliantly under the larger stuff as it loves to creep around. Had to post that link as found the name really funny! 

    I protected my bananas with a thick pile of straw at the base and even after this last winter they have survived.

    You keep mentioning using rhubarb but wouldn't you prefer an ornamental one? The leaves are enormous!

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 42,714

    Oh, I was just going to recommend that you look at Will Giles videos/books/blogs on his exotic garden here in Norwich - but I see Salino beat me to it.  

    You'll get so many ideas from it ..............

    A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in - Greek proverb 
  • Fg - If you watch Beechgrove on Sunday 9.15 am, you'll see the size that Gunnera can get to! 

    Humungous!  image

  • FarmergeddunFarmergeddun Posts: 229

    I've seen Gunnera with leaves that I could use for a tent!  It's far too big for my garden.  I do love the plant though and I'm thinking of putting it next to the pond on my allotment. It is a large pond for an allotment.

    Addict - I don't keep mentioning rhubarb, just answering comments and asking one question - admittedly I've asked it more than once image  That Atrosanguineum does look impressive.  You've confirmed my thoughts about the birch though - it's going to have to come down.  Luckily it's only about 15 feet tall at the moment.  There is also an out of control hedge or two that will need poisoning as I cut one of them to the ground in spring and it's come back with a flourish.image

  • SalinoSalino Posts: 1,609

    ...I'm not trying to encourage you to go, but you might like to visit Hardy Tropicals UK which is another forum and see what you can pick up from there... information wise that is...

    if I was to choose just 3 readily available, none too expensive and hardy enough for where you are I would go for... Fargesia clump forming bamboos - Rufa especially... Pittosporum Tobira and Euphorbia x pasteurii, which is a new plant and more luxuriant in leafage than Mellifera..but very similar otherwise.. can be grown from seeds too...

    lots of foliage there to get stuck in to...see what you think...

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