5 Tropical Winter Hardy Evergreen Plants for UK Gardens
Getting that tropical look in your garden can be challenging in the UK due to our damp, cold and windy winter weather. Here are 5 of the best jungle effect plants that create an exotic look for your garden but will also withstand the worst of our British weather.
The Secret to Choosing Tropical Plants
Big jungly leaves are the most desirable quality when looking at any plant. The downside to large foliage is that it can be easily damaged by wind so you need plants that still look good after storms.
You need to choose a plant that can withstand cold temperatures, most of the plants from the tropical regions of the world would not survive our cold damp, windy winters. Banana plants are guaranteed to be shredded when exposed to windy conditions and once exposed to frost die off. Whilst the look good they are not for a year round tropical effect garden.
Chasun palms are essential for a guaranteed exotic appearance. The most popular type of fan palm and most widely available are Trachycarpus fortunei and Trachycarpus wagnerianus. The latter having smaller foliage but stiffer and greater wind resistant foliage.
If you fancy something a little bit more exotic and exclusive there are now a number of Trachycarpus cultivars mostly hybrids, and new varieties introduced or discovered.
Some are quite spectacular like Trachycarpus martianus var. 'kassia hills' but hardiness does vary among the newly available types so some may only be suitable for milder parts of the country.
A proven grower for much of the UK, this is a large leaved plant that will add instant impact. Even with big foliage this winter flowering plant is ideally suited to our climate dealing well with damp and below zero conditions as well as hot dry spells.
Fatsia japonica (Japanese aralia)
The most commonly grown is Fatsia japonica, the Japanese aralia with large plain green lobed leaves like a hand with fat fingers. The foliage gives it a tropical appearance but as the common name suggests it is from Japan rather than the tropics.
Fatsia japonica 'Variegata' (Japanese aralia 'Variegata')
There's almost always a variegated version of most commercially available plants and it is so with the variegated Fatsia. It is best described as sporadic white variegation around the edges of the leaves.
I've found it to be as hardy and as tolerant as the plain leaved variety but not as prolific albeit I have only ever grown one.
Fatsia japonica 'Spider's Web' (Japanese aralia 'Spider's Web')
The Spider's Web Fatsia has some really unusual variegation that gives its leaves a spider web or almost frosted look on the upper surface.
I have found it is a much slower grower and I'd even go as far to say its a dwarf variety in my opinion although I am told it grows to the same height as the others. Every year mine will put on 30ish centimeters at most whilst the plain green leaved ones are at least double that.
It is quite spectacular and the newly opening leaves look almost alien. The whole appearance of the plant is definitely exotic looking.
Again it copes well with whatever the British climate can throw at it.
Fatsia japonica 'Annelise' (Japanese aralia 'Annelise')
Undoubtedly the most spectacular looking and most colourful Fatsia is Annelise. The leaf colouring is made up of various shades of green with each leaf sporting a random pattern. The overall effect is stunningly colourful foliage.
I have never lost an Annelise plant to the elements but one was killed by vine weevil, they seem be able to hunt out the rarest or most difficult to obtain plants. The same thing happened to my Schefflera rhododendrifolia.
Fatsia polycarpa ('Green Fingers')
Fatsia japonica not tropical enough for you then take a look at Fatsia polycarpa 'Green Fingers' a thinner lobed more delicate looking Fatsia but just as hardy.
Probably the most archetypal 'tropical plant' used in Britain found in numbers in coastal locations especially Cornwall and Devon. Relatively fast growing Cordyline australis produces a slender trunk crowned with long slender leaves giving the appearance of a tropical tree.
Although these are pretty hardy plants they can be cut down by very harsh winters such as the one in winter 2009/2010 where in colder regions the plants were defoliated. However many recovered and most winters these remain evergreen and undamaged.
Like Trachycarpus, Cordyline is one of the few comparatively tall plants that can give height to your garden where most tropical like plants will be under 2 metres.
You can maximise the appearance of the trunk by stripping off old leaves to expose more of the trunk and produce a tidier crown.
Everyone has probably seen the standard green Cordyline or Cabbage palms as they are commonly known but we now have hardy coloured varieties.
Cordyline australis 'Charlie Boy'
Cordyline australis 'Charlie Boy' is hardly ever mentioned as a plant to brighten up a cold hardy British tropical garden yet it ticks all the boxes. Charlie Boy has bright and brash purple and pink foliage and is much hardier than Pink passion which is more commonly available. As a small plant it can brighten up areas of your garden even in mid winter and as it grows will become small tree sized like standard green Cordylines.
Cordyline australis 'Red Star'
There are several purple variants of Cordyline such as Purpurea, Purple Sensation, Purple Dazzler and of course Red Star which seem to work well in our climate. There are some question marks about it's hardiness an tolerance to damp soil and I am currently testing some next to my other Cordyline.
Cordyline Red Star does however seem to cope well with standard winters and looks to be as tough as the standard green varieties even though many say it is half hardy.
However Red Star is widely available and relatively cheap to buy and so a good way to add purples and reds into your tropical garden and add some year round colour.
Not many people think of Yucca as a suggestion to add an exotic look to a UK garden. Yucca come in more varieties than just the white flowering, Yucca gloriosa.
There are some very cold hardy winter Yuccas that will more than survive across all of the UK even the North of Scotland.
Some of the hardiest varieties include Yucca baccata (lower than -20°c), Yucca glauca (lower than -30°c), Yucca harrimaniae (down to around -15°c), Yucca nana (down to -30°c) and Yucca filamentosa (down to around -15°c).
Unfortunately many Yucca variants are not easily available in the UK except Yucca filamentosa and Yucca gloriosa both of which have coloured leaf variants which look quite exotic and integrate well into a cold hardy tropical garden.
Yucca filamentosa 'Color guard'
Color guard is available in the UK and is a great clumping Yucca that is suitable for our British weather withstanding both extreme cold and drought. They do not however like to be waterlogged so growing in pots, well draining soil or raised earth is preferable.
Yucca aloifolia 'Purpurea'
Although not as hardy, taking down to -10°c, I have added Yucca aloifolia 'Purpurea' due to its stunning appearance. It looks like it was plucked straight from the Jungle with new strappy leaves appearing as green and turning to a purple colour.
When it comes to big leaves and I mean foot long foliage then not many plants match Eriobotrya japonica (Loquat). I've measured leaves reaching 30cm in length, are mid green and leathery on top and a slightly furry white green on the underside.
Its appearance is certainly exotic and can add an instant tropical look to your garden. It will grow into a medium sized tree but can easily be trimmed to maintain a respectable height without blocking out too much light and annoying the neighbours.
It is hardy over most of the UK and can take temperatures down to -10°c. There is a new sport that is grafted called 'Rose Anne' which is purportedly hardier. I am currently growing this but as yet have not had a hard enough winter to confirm its hardiness.