Seven Essentials of Creating a Tropical Garden

Be inspired by the lush landscapes of Bali, like these amazing Calathea Lutea - Havana Cigar Plants

Guys! Our recent trip to Bali has given me some major tropical garden inspo and ideas! After returning home, I’ve been madly researching how to get the tropical look and what plants will work in my area.

I’ve always loved tropical gardens, but shied away from having them myself for fear of them turning out tacky. But seeing the seriously lush and creative landscapes in Bali has me wanting to recreate one – once and for all! So if you’re interested in having your own tropical paradise, I’ve compiled my seven essentials of creating a tropical garden to get you headed in the right direction.

Guide to tropical gardens - seven essentials of creating a tropical garden - Balinese inspired! | Dossier Blog

Seven Essentials of Creating a Tropical Garden

Broad-Leaf Plants

Tropical plants and gardens are trademarked by oversized, broad-leaf plants. If you only have a small space, you may decide to just have a few large plants, but definitely use the addition of at least a couple to give the scale and drama that we all love about the tropics. Plants that are great for scale include the giant Bird of Paradise, Wandering Palms, Heliconias and my most recent discovery, the giant-leaved Calathea Lutea or Havana Cigar Plant. I can’t wait to add a few of these to my own tropical space!

The Calathea Lutea or Havana Cigar plant - an amazing broad leaf tropical plant that will give scale and drama to your garden! | Dossier Blog


You may have noticed that tropical landscapes aren’t just lush, but colourful! Colour can be incorporated through flowers but also a range of coloured foliage plants. If you love flowers, think about including Frangipani trees, Bougainvillea (these plants seem to transcend all styles!), and even flowering ground covers like Voilets. If you would rather year-round colour in your garden, there are a range of colourful foliage plants you can use. Check out broad-leaved Cannas, multicoloured Crotons, and my personal favourite – a range of pink Cordylines (for other pink-foliaged plants, check these out).

Pink tropical plants like this Cordyline Fructicosa made a great addition to a garden | Dossier Blog


It pretty much goes without saying that any tropical space is lush and dense! This density creates interest – there is always something to look at, and no angle is boring. In nature, tropical plants are grappling for light, brushing against one another and growing out of control! Whether you achieve this by densely planting your garden straight away, or allowing the plants to grow and expand over time is up to you. To achieve this quickly (or inexpensively), look at planting clumping and spreading types of plants that will eventually take up more space. Think about bamboos, mondo grass, runners and ground covers.

Layers and Dynamics

A major point of interest in tropical gardens is the layers of plants and contrast of leaf shape & colour. Most tropical gardens work best when they mimic the tropics in nature, aka layering. At the bottom level, there are ground covers that spread over the rainforest floor. Next are mid-sized plants, and finally taller plants that reach the sunlight and also provide shade for the smaller plants below. Keep in mind when creating your garden how big your plants with grow – keep the taller ones at the back and smaller ones at the front to echo this dynamic.

Similarly, play with the shapes, textures and colours of plants by placing contrasting styles next to each other. Where a formal garden is structured, like-with-like and orderly, tropical gardens appear to be random (although are actually well thought out). They have a complete mix of dynamics and contrasting colours.

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Adding Natural Features

One of my favourite aspects of tropical landscapes doesn’t have to do with plants at all! In Balinese-style tropical gardens, there will almost always be a feature to break up the plants. This may be a statue, pebbles, a natural stone path or wooden bench. Think about creating interest by adding into your garden elements of wood, stone, rock and natural pavers. Even putting some plants in pots, then placing them in the garden can help achieve this look.

Groundcovers and creepers are essential to providing dynamic and lushness to your tropical garden! | Dossier Blog


A lot of tropical Balinese gardens include water in one way or another. If you have a pool, that makes it easy! If not, you still don’t need to go crazy with the water features. Think about a small concrete bowl of water to house water lilies, papyrus or other water plants. This will give your garden a cooling effect, create interest and give a focal point.

Tropical gardens next to pools will make your outdoor environment next-level! Check out this guide to tropical gardening | Dossier Blog

Dense and lush plants are a major feature of tropical landscapes. Here's seven things you need to achieve a tropical look | Dossier Blog


Creative Surprises

I loved the creativity of the Balinese when using nature! Like this little narrow planter of grass beside our villa door. While we were staying there, they cut the grass and within a couple of days, it was already growing again! A pot of overflowing creepers, a grass planter, an orchid tied to a tree… Let creativity be the limit as you make pockets of interest and uniqueness in your garden.

Seven steps to creating a Balinese-inspired tropical garden #7 - adding in elements of whimsy and surprise like this little grass planter next to a doorway | Dossier Blog

Orchids tied to Frangipani Trees in Bali - guide to creating Tropical gardens | Dossier Blog


Some final notes on how to grow tropical plants in your area:

Even if you live in a cooler climate, it is still possible to achieve a tropical look using the above steps and plants that suit your climate! Make sure you know what each plants’ needs are, for example some tropical plants prefer full sun while other are more shade loving. Getting this right is the first step!

Tropical plants need a well draining soil. If you don’t have this, you may need to do some ground work first. Break up the ground and add in a well-draining mix. Mulch is also a necessity for tropical plants, as it stops water loss by evaporation and adds nutrients to the soil. If you live in an area that gets frosts or close to freezing, see what plants will grow in your area. You can still have a tropical inspired garden with plants that fit the bill – broad leaves, colour and texture, and dense plantings will all help you achieve this look.

So, are you interested in seeing how my own little tropical garden is coming along? Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see the above steps in action!

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • Karon Guilherme
    July 1, 2021 8:27 am

    I would love to see the creation of your tropical garden. I’m trying to creat a tropical oasis in a small garden. Any tips please

  • Just had a number of giant bird of paradise palms removed as they pushed over my and my neighbour’s adjoining fence. They looked great but kept sprouting new stalks and were out of control. I love the tropicsl look and want to plant other tropical looking plants but are fearful I will have the same problem. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Gail, I would look for tropical plants that don’t have clumping or spreading habits. You could try some palm trees ( as long as they’re planted not too close to a fence) and smaller tropical plants in between that are more manageable, such as philodendron xanadu. Heliconias also look great but can spread, so I’d recommend putting plants like this in big pots in the garden so that they are contained. Pots are great as they can also add some character and interest in the garden too. Hope that helps!

  • Love tropical and lush gardens. Where I live is sunny and dry. So I’m working on it. Hopefully by next year my plants show off ☺️🙏🏻

  • I just followed a thread and found your wonderful account. I’m so happy I did. I love plants and yes I have made as de a few journeys based around plants and I have a tropical garden and would love to see how yours is coming along.
    Thanks so much for sharing so much great stuff x

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