Subtropical wonders to visit

Fancy a taste of subtropical style without the need for a passport? Many RHS Partner Gardens have exotic-themed areas planted with bold foliage and zingy, hot colours to create a lush, subtropical effect. Make a visit this summer to pick up ideas for your own planting schemes, or simply to enjoy a little taste of planting paradise. 

Watch our slideshow of subtropical-style gardens to visit

Create your own slice of the subtropics

We asked seven Partner Gardens for their suggestions on hardy plants that you can use to create a subtropical theme. Each of these gardens offers free entry to RHS members (main cardholder) at selected times - check your Members' Handbook or search Garden Finder for full opening arrangements.

Seven hardy plants for exotic displays:


Trachycarpus fortuneiTrachycarpus fortunei (Chusan palm)

A palm sums up exotic! This hardy palm is easy to grow - in the ground or in a tub -  producing huge, pendulous panicles of yellow flowers and numerous pea-like fruits.

If you have a small garden and cannot grow a palm, try planting unusual Veratrum nigrum. Its large leaves have prominent veining and the tall spires of maroon star-shaped flowers make a striking display.
- Borde Hill Garden, West Sussex

Ensete Hiniba and Musa basjooMusa basjoo (Japanese banana)

The big, lush leaves of Musa basjoo give an instant feel of the tropics, and they are useful for creating contrasting foliage effects. Once the weather cools, we give it protection by lifting it and putting in a frost-free glasshouse. If you don't have a glasshouse, place in a sheltered spot, wrap with fleece and keep relatively dry.
-Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

Fatsia japonicaFatsia japonica (Japanese aralia)

Fatsia japonica isn't hard to source and is an easy starter plant for those who want to dabble in the drama of sub-tropical plantings. Its robust, palmate leaves give that lush tropical look.

It will cope with most soils and even takes shade, but may need some protection in harsh winters, particularly when young.  It is evergreen and with fairly hard pruning can be kept to a size that is suitable for your space.

In late autumn it produces large panicles of white flowers, providing much-needed nectar for insects at a relatively lean time. Black berries follow in winter, making this a plant with interest all year round.
-Cannington Walled Garden, Somerset

Tetrapanax papyrifer 'Rex'Trochodendron aralioides

This is colloquially known as the 'wheel tree' because its flower stamens spread out like the spokes of a wheel. It comes from Taiwan, Japan and Korea and is quite hardy. It can be grown in sun or shade and has exotic flowerheads in a sophisticated shade of green.

If allergy was not an issue I should also want to plant Tetrapanax papyrifer (pictured above left), which has the largest leaves that can be grown outside in the British Isles (at the moment!) However, the indumentum on its stems and the undersides of the leaves can be a problem for asthma sufferers.
-East Ruston Old Vicarage, Norfolk

Cordyline australis Torbay DazzlerCordyline australis (cabbage palm)

This gives any garden a tropical feel - one look and you think of somewhere warm and sunny. It's tough, too - ours have been punished in recent winters but have come back healthy and lush. If specimens are getting too tall, you can cut them back and with some patience they will rejuvenate into a bushier plant.

Cordylines give you the best of both worlds. They add height but you can also plant underneath; we underplant ours with penstemons to give a late-flowering display. For something different, we cut and dry the cream flowers for use in our Christmas displays.
-Burton Agnes Gardens, East Yorkshire

Cautleya 'Robusta'Cautleya spicata ‘Robusta’

This rhizomatous perennial is fully hardy in our tropical borders and survived the winters of 2011 / 12, when night temperatures reached -20 degrees.

It grows to about 90cm tall with broadly lance-shaped leaves, a purple tinged stem and bracts of yellow / orange double-lipped flowers. We lift and divide the clump on roughly a four-year cycle to keep the plant performing well, and mulch the crown in autumn to afford some protection.
-The Dorothy Clive Garden, Staffordshire

Crocosmia 'Lucifer'Crocosmia 'Lucifer'

This strong-growing perennial has sprays of vivid red, funnel-shaped flowers and sword-shaped leaves. Combine with jungle-y leaves and spiky foliage and you have a ready-made taste of the tropics! The seed heads are persistent, too, meaning long-lasting interest even after the flowers have finished for the season.
-Coleton Fishacre, Devon

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