Tropical hardy plants - Agave

One way of making sure that you are miles ahead of the family Jones is to transform your suburban patch of green into a slice of the tropics. Many of the plants that we commonly associate with tropical environments are perfectly hardy and can be established and (with a little care) will thrive in the UK.

Perhaps you are looking for tropical looking plants for cold climates? You will be surprised on the wide variety of hardy tropical plants on offer these days.

Hardy Plants to Try

1. Agave

Originally from Mexico: A beautiful succulent plant with a thick upward spray of ‘Aloe-like’ leaves. Adds plenty of architectural value to a garden. Will need to be removed to a reasonable frost-free environment over winter. I keep mine in a large clay pot so that it can be moved around. Requires very little watering and care.

2. Chusan Palm (Trachycarpus Fortunei)

A real must for any tropical garden. The Chusan Palm originates from China and will survive temperatures as low as -10C. However, like are tropical plants, they prefer to be kept ‘ice-free’ in the winter by ensuring that the head of the plant doesn’t get too wet. Younger plants will need protection for the first couple of years.

3. Phormium

A clump forming, thick bladed grass from New Zealand. Very hardy and will produce spikes of red flowers during high summer. Phormiums can be propagated via root stock division.

4. Banana (Musa Lasiocarpa)

This beautiful fanned leaves of this clump-forming herb will add a dash of the tropics to any garden. The Banana is fairly hardy, but will need protecting from the worst of the British winter. I tend to put mine in an unheated greenhouse over winter.

5. Passion Flower (Passiflora Caerulea)

A fast growing and very hardy climber. It originates from South America and was used by missionaries to describe the passion of Christ, with its rather unusual flowers producing what looks like three nails and a crown of thorns. The Caerulea, the hardiest of the genus and does yield bright orange fruit, but they are fairly tasteless.

6. Giant Hibiscus

Who doesn’t think of the Hibiscus when you thick of paradise? The plate sized flowers of this fast growing perennial will delight any passer-by. Hibiscus is fully hardy and will thrive in full sun.

7. Cordyline Australis

Often referred to as the ‘Torbay Palm’, the very hardy evergreen tree can be grown throughout most of the UK. I tend to protect my younger Cordylines with a fleece in the winter – the green varieties are far hardier than the burgundy. They originate from New Zealand are actual a grass. I have grown Cordylines from seeds collected from fruiting specimens and the seedlings look just like little tufts of grass for the first few months.

8. Sea Holly – (Eryngium Agavifolium)

Saw-like thick green leaves. Will produce white flowers during the later parts of the summer. This plant is reasonably hardy and can be left out over winter in all but the most northern parts of the UK.

9. Fatsia Japonica

I once bought a Fatsia for my future Mother-in-Law as a gift. It now, 7 years on, dominates her patio with it’s large, glossy, bright green, hand-shaped leaves. They are quite hardy, but it is advised that you protect smaller specimens.

10 Tree Ferns

In my mind, one of the most tropical looking plant you can add to your garden. Prehistoric plants add an incredible large portion of architectural spender to any garden. Tree Ferns aren’t cheap to buy though, so make sure your protect them in the winter months by wrapping fleece and/or straw around the growing head of the plant – which must be kept dry in colder weather.

11. Yucca

Very similar in appearance to the Cordyline, the hardy Yucca offers robust, green, sword-like leaves and grows in a clumping habit. In summer, a mature Yucca will put out a tall white spear of sweetly scented and attractive flowers.

12. Bamboo

Most bamboos are very hardy and can be used to form whispering swathes of green within your garden (shorter varieties) or as screens and elevated focal points (taller varieties).

13. Gunnera Manicata

A truly bizarre and wonderful giant with leaves 1 to 2 metres across! Very similar looking to Rhubarb, hence it’s vulgar name ‘Chile Rhubarb’. It prefers soil ground and will die back to soil level during winter. It is not totally hardy, so it is advised you cover the growing crown during winter with fleece or a thick mulch.

14. Canna

A tender deciduous perennial. Banana-like leaved rhizomes-based plant with very attractive fiery flower, reminiscent of Gladioli. Will grown from 1 – 2 metres high, depending on variety. Canna can be grown in containers or as a focal point in any garden. Can be trim down to grown level, unearthed and stored in a frost-free environment over winter.

15. Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia Reginae)

Also known as the Crane Flower, from South Africa. Very exotic-looking plant with large glossy leaves, similar to the banana plant and a flower which looks like and tropical bird’s head, with a splash of sunset hues. Bird of Paradise grow up to 1.2 metres high, is clump forming, but will need to be protected from the winter frosts. Makes a great patio plant in the summer.

James Middleton

An obsessive gardener since 1982. Day-time job - web designer and developer and University lecturer.

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