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Creating a Tropical Garden

South East Queensland is the subtropical haven of Australia. It is known to have the ideal climate, the perfect sunshine, the best of all growing plant growing conditions.

The area is prefect for creating tropical and subtropical gardens.

To create your own slice of tropical paradise there are four basic groups of elements that are considered.


Group 1 – the design

Tropical and subtropical gardens are renowned for their outdoor lifestyle characteristics. Great gardens have specifically built huts or pavilions for entertainment and relaxation. If designed well, it may even double up as a bedroom on hot summer nights, with the appropriate netting.

Integral to the design is the introduction of focal points within the garden. This may be as simple as water ponds to create serenity, or Bali figures to create a cultural identity.

These focal points should compliment space function, rather than become the awkward dominate features.

Space is assessed for maximum utilisation.


Group 2 – the journey

For every holiday you take, you must journey to reach your destination. Likewise a tropical garden should take you on a journey to create the sense of holiday retreat within the garden.

Paths must lead to places to admire to garden, such as a seat, a pavilion, or a water feature. It is along these paths that plants are most appreciated.


Group 3 – the plants

Tropical and subtropical plants are usually described as lush, bold, dramatic, fiery, sensual… obviously plants that evoke emotion.

Fine foliage plants common in herb and cottage gardens are usually replaced by large bold leaves, strong structural shapes and intense coloured foliage and flowers. However a trip to some tropical countries will indicate that even camellias can be used in a tropical garden.

Favourite plants amongst designers include:

Frangipani (Plumeria)

Heliconia (Heliconia)

Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia)

Gingers (Hedychium, Zingiber, Costus)

Bromeliads (Aechmea, Billbergia, Neoregelia, etc)


Cycads (Dioon, Bowenia, Zamia)


Flame of the Woods (Ixora)

Crotons (Coaedium)

Aroids (Alocasia)



Group 4 – Structures and Furnishings

To appreciate the garden you must create structures from where you can sit. A typical structure is a thatched-roofed Balinese huts. However simple structures and seats can be crafted.


Group 5 – the water element

Every tropical garden needs water.

It can be as simple as a recycled pot converted into a pond, or may be an elaborate water pond many metres long.

The water element must suit the space and design theme.

Ideally suitable plants and fish should be included to create a microclimate within the garden.


written by Paul Plant, FAIH, horticultural writer. Editor of subTropical Gardening magazine - www.stgmagazine.com.au

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