Dreaming of tropical gardens evokes thoughts of vibrant flowers and large foliage in colors ranging from vibrant lime green to deep forest green—and gardeners who don’t live in warm, humid climates often assume that this type of look is out of reach for them. The good news is that even if your climate doesn’t allow you to grow every plant you’d seen in Hawaii, for example, you can still get a tropical garden aesthetic in your own backyard.


1. Choose Tropical Garden Plants:

So, what type of plants are in a tropical garden? Rather than limiting yourself to plants typically found in hot locations, focus on plants with the visual qualities of tropical plants. When used in the right combinations, you’d be surprised at how some plants that are hardy down to even Zone 4 (hello, hostas!) can contribute to creating a resort-style look.

With the right combination of plants, you can give any garden—anywhere—a tropical feel. At this garden in Portland, OR, (Zone 8b) Lauren Hall-Behrens created a calm retreat with a tropical feel using plants such as hardy Musa basjoo (Japanese banana), and sweeps of Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’. See more of this garden here.

Here are some characteristics to keep an eye out for:

  • Large leaves
  • Vibrant blooms
  • Colorful foliage

When choosing spots for each of your plants, make sure to put plants with similar water, sun, and soil needs together. See specific plant suggestions here.

2. Make the Most of Your Space:

Limited on outdoor space? That’s okay—you can still get a tropical vibe in a small garden! Even a few coordinating containers can create an eye-catching vignette. Consider creating a combination of multiple plants in a larger container first. Then, feature some of the plants you used in that container on their own in smaller containers. Place those around the larger display to create cohesion.

This vivid container is a self-watering AquaPot that includes: Toucan® Yellow canna lily, Superbells® Yellow calibrachoa, Supertunia Mini Vista® Hot Pink petunia, and Supertunia® Lovie Dovie™ petunia (get the container recipe). Photo by Proven Winners.

If you either don’t have the room or you’re just looking to dabble in tropical design, try your hand at planting just one large container with the right combination of big foliage and vibrant colors. Bonus: you can overwinter the container to make it last longer. Get ideas for more tropical container combinations.

Love containers but not a fan of having to remember to water them? Try AquaPots!

3. Transform a Corner:

Whether you have a corner of your garden or patio that needs an update or you just want to freshen up your backyard, a tropical makeover is a great solution. Use containers to add plants that fit in with the scene, and don’t forget to include a piece of outdoor furniture to provide a spot to lounge and enjoy the scenery.

Large-leafed plants against the house and a variety of leafy plants with vibrant foliage in AquaPot containers make this corner feel like a mini retreat. Photo by Proven Winners.

4. Give Your Pool Area a Resort-Like Feel:

If you have a pool, including tropical plants in and around your pool area can completely alter the appearance and feeling of the space. Swimming or lounging in the water and looking out to see lush greenery and bright blooms can make it feel like you’re on a getaway at a resort. Having planter beds that surround your pool area is not required, either. Grouping pots around your pool deck is a simple solution if you don’t have in-ground planting area. Choose plants in varying heights and colors for the best effect and to create a secluded feeling.

5. Be Strategic About Colors & Patterns:

Sometimes all it takes is a few elements in the right color or pattern to pull everything together. On a patio, for example, the right outdoor pillows next to a container garden with just a subtle tropical vibe does the trick. An outdoor blanket, lounge chair, or cushions in vibrant colors or appropriate patterns are other items that work to liven things up.

Colors typically used for tropical gardens:

  • Vibrant lime green
  • Oranges
  • Pinks
  • Reds
  • Yellows

Tip: Don’t overdo the tropical patterns. Just a few splashes of it here and there will suffice!

The green pitcher and glasses, pillows with a palm leaf pattern, and Graceful Grasses® Prince Tut™ jutting from the center of the green ceramic pot all work together to create a tropical look on this patio. In addition to the grasses, the container includes Goldilocks Rocks® bidens, Superbells® Coralina calibrachoa, and Supertunia® Royal Velvet® (get the container recipe). Photo by Proven Winners.

6. Dote on the Details:

Teak, rattan, and wicker are furniture materials that contribute nicely to a tropical scheme. So does soft lighting via lanterns or uplighting on focal-point plants. Thoughtfully considering how the features of each new piece works together with your existing space makes a huge impact.

Teak furniture and romantic lighting make this dreamy spot reminiscent of an exotic retreat. A container combination completes the scene with Proven Accents® Sweet Caroline Bewitched After Midnight™ sweet potato and vibrant red Supertunia® Black Cherry® petunias. Photo by Proven Winners.

7. Repeat Plants to Attract Attention:

Group plants of the same species together to create a large mass of stunning foliage or eye-catching blooms (or both!). Using this technique with tropical plants is a surefire way to create visual interest.

This square planting bed includes masses of three plants: bright-green Lemon Coral® sedum, deep burgundy ColorBlaze® Wicked Witch™ coleus, and prolifically blooming SunPatiens® Compact Orange impatiens. At center, a majesty palm stands tall. Get the landscape recipe. Photo by Proven Winners.

8. Use a Backdrop for Visual & Physical Support:

A small backdrop such as a wooden fence or wrought-iron trellis provides a spot for plants to lean on, and it also contributes to the scene by introducing a new material. Have a garden bed that feels incomplete? Add a backdrop and plant a tropical flower garden in front of it.

Here, three plants shine in front of a small wooden fence. From front: Supertunia® Royal Velvet® petunia, Golden Butterfly® Argyranthemum, and Toucan® scarlet canna. Get the landscape recipe. Photo by Proven Winners.

9. Add Whimsical Elements:

Find garden art in the form of fountains, statues, containers, and more, that fit into your tropical theme. For tropical gardens, gardeners use everything from vintage boats as planters, to seashells interspersed with decorative rock, to metal sea turtles as wall décor.

This Easter Island statue that also serves as a planter for string of beans fits in perfectly with waxy red anthurium blooms. Photo by Joshua Reddekopp on Unsplash.

10. Incorporate a Water Feature:

The finishing touch for every tropical escape? Water. Adding a water feature to a tropical garden is a must. And it doesn’t have to be huge! Even just the sound of water from a small electric fountain can make a big difference. The trickle of water adds tranquility and contributes to the overall theme of the space.

Surrounded by a variety of palm and banana species, this large water feature transforms this conservatory into an exotic escape. Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash.


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