with Deryn Thorpe

Growing palms

Monsteria delisiosa
Ripe Monsteria delisiosa

Gardeners too have always appreciated the beauty of the palm and while most varieties grow easily in tropical and sub-tropical areas, there are many palms and other plants that will provide a lush tropical look in drier climates.

Tropical gardens create a cooling retreat in summer and somehow even just looking at the expanse of green seems to cool one down.

The green sets off the blue of pools, teams perfectly with timber and provides a vivid backdrop to alfresco design.

Unfortunately many people use palms poorly in suburban gardens. If you like the graceful form of palms choose carefully, so that after a few year's growth you don't end up with a collection of tall poles with foliage in the clouds. Use some smaller growing varieties and palms with many stems to create levels of foliage from the ground to the sky.

For a more natural effect single trunk palms need to be planted in groups of three or more spaced 1m to 2m apart.

Cocus palms are to be avoided as they don't shed their fronds, which hang onto the plant once dead and make the palm look unattractive. Adding to this, their seeds clog swimming pool filters and fibrous roots will not allow plants to be established beneath them.

Palms suited to planting in groups of three or more include alexandra (Archontopheonix alexandrae), foxtail palm (Wodyetia bifurcate), bangalow, (Archontopheonix cunninghamiana) and kentia (Howea forsteriana). Under-planting with shrubs adds to the lush effect.

If you want the tropical look consider adding some tropical trees like, frangipanijacaranda, royal poinciana, the leopard tree and the golden showers tree which have jewel-like coloured blooms and spreading canopies that create cooling shade.

Climbers scrambling over walls also add to the lush dense look,that make a tropical garden so inviting. Bamboo – clumping varieties are best to use to screen fences.

These days some people want gardens that are also productive so you may want to consider some fruiting plants to add flavour as well as style to your leafy retreat.

Use both plants with brightly coloured flowers and those with dramatic foliage contrasts which will make the depth of green seem even more intense.

Lastly add to the sensory experience of a tropical retreat by including plants like frangipani and jasmine to add fragrance.

Climbers. Guinea vine (Hibbertia scandens), Star jasmine (Trachyospermum jasminoides), Golden Trumpet vine (Allamanda cathartica), Blue Trumpet vine (Thunbergia grandiflora), Stephanotis (Stephanotis floribunda), Orange Trumpet vine (Pyrostegia venusta), Pandorea jasminoides

Shrubs. Bougainvillea, Hibiscus, Canna – Canna Tropicana, Bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae and nicholai), Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia), Ornamental sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), Blood leaf (Iresine herbstii)

Clumpin Bamboo. Bambusa valgaris vittata, Bambusa ventricosa (Buddha's Belly bamboo), Bambusa multiplex albo-striata, Bambusa multiplex 'Alphonse Karr', Fargesia nitida, Fargesia rufa

Palms. Triangle palm (Dypsis decaryi), Golden cane palm (Dypsis lutescens), Windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) – will take frosts, Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) – will take frosts, Bamboo (Chamaedorea seifritzii), Bismarck palm (Bismarckia nobilis)

Edibles. Tamarillo, Swiss cheese plant (Monsteria delisiosa) – needs shade, Mango, Avocado, Banana palms, Passionfruit vines.

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