A couple enjoying a tropical backyard

Stepping into the backyard on a balmy afternoon, cocktail in hand and heady floral scents in the air, transports you to a lush resort without the hefty price tag.

Growing a tropical garden in climates south of Cairns might seem high maintenance, but clever plant choices can achieve the right result.

Rather than trying to get true tropical plants to survive in areas hostile to them, choose hardy ferns, palm-like trees and big-leafed shrubs suited to the local climate.

Plants in the tropics grow naturally in areas of shallow, moist and nutrient-rich leaf mulch. To create this at home, layer compost, well-rotted leaf litter, manures, and keep moist to make a soil mix the plants can thrive in.

Designing with tropicals

Tropical environments have plenty of lush growth so the garden can be left to grow without worrying too much about weeding or pruning.
Combining plants with a variety of foliage types creates year-round interest. Choose different leaf shapes, colours and textures, grouping three to five of the same variety together.

Flowering plants such as frangipani, hibiscus and strelitzia add colour in spring and summer, providing contrast to tall, green-leaf plants such as tree fern, palm and bamboo, that can create a backdrop.

Frangipanis are a great choice to add colour to a tropical garden, flowering in the spring and summer

Planting herbs and spices

Apart from contributing to the tropical theme, herbs and spices provide a tasty resource for the kitchen.

Position them throughout the garden with kaffir lime, lemongrass, coriander and mint growing among shrubs in cool, moist spots.

To grow ginger choose a healthy looking piece from an organic market then position it just under the surface of the soil in a warm and sunny spot. It should be ready for harvesting in about eight months by digging up clumps of the root with a spade.

Cardamom, turmeric and galangal are from the same family and can be grown in similar ways. Peel the skin and chop finely to use for Malaysian, Thai and Indian cooking.

grow-your-own-organic-gingerEdibles such as ginger are easy to grow and add splashes of colour to a tropical-style garden

Tropical designs

Typical tropical themed gardens tend to be filled with lush foliage, colourful flowers and tall growing trees that all spill into one another.

‘Choosing an effective palette of plants is about doing your homework,’ says Phillip O’Malley of Phillip O’Malley Garden Design in Pomona, Queensland.

To keep it green, ‘Always design for extreme weather conditions, wet or dry.’

He also believes 70 of a garden should be chore and stress free with 30 requiring a bit of effort to maintain green, healthy plants.