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Bold and exotic planting inspiration

If you love the look of tropical plants and want to include them in your own garden, there are plenty to choose that look the part but should be able to handle the winter chills of the UK.

The lush foliage and bold colours of tropical plants are a sight to behold in RHS Garden Wisley's Exotic Garden, pictured below – a good place to visit if you want to see them for yourself before committing to planting a border. Here are some ideas to help you get the look at home.

Leaf it out

The large, bright green leaves of the hardy banana, Musa basjoo, contract with the dramatic dark red foliage of cannas

Large jungly leaves are key to this look – and luckily there are lots of plants you can grow in the British climate that can provide them. Try cannas, such as these purple-leafed ones, hardy bananas, and windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) which are really cold tolerant and are evergreen so they look great all year round.

Mix it up

The Exotic Garden at RHS Garden Wisley is a great place to see how subtropical plants look and grow together

Mix brightly-coloured bedding plants – things like dahlias, cannas and begonias that are planted out for the summer – with permanent plants like hardy palms and phormiums for a vivid display. This garden may be large  but it’s full of ideas to take home.

Play with patterns

Exotic plants, like this canna, have gorgeous foliage that deserves to be admired up close

Use patterned leaves to bring exotic accents to the garden – there are some incredible shapes and patterns out there, from cannas like the one above that look as though they’ve been streaked with paint to variegated grasses and phormiums. Experiment and find out what works well together for you.

Plant a palm

If you choose your palm tree carefully, it should survive low temperatures without needing winter protection

Nothing says exotic quite like a palm tree. Use palms and palm-like plants (cordylines, yuccas etc) to add an instant tropical touch. These plants vary greatly in hardiness – some such as the windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) are really quite hardy while others like date palms will need a bit of winter protection in most places. Mix foliage shapes – paddle-shaped bananas etc with spiky palms.

Get vibrant

Deep, vibrant colour epitomises the exotic garden look, so be brave to get the look

Vibrant colour is an essential part of the bold and exotic look. Leave carefully-coordinated pastel colour schemes behind and search out the brightest flowers you can find. Putting them against a backdrop of purple-leafed plants heightens the effect. Here Fuchsia ‘Professor Henkel’ gives a jolt of scarlet which looks all the brighter against its own bronzy foliage, as well as that of dahlias, cannas and Ricinus (castor oil plant).

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.