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Totally Tropical | How to create that Jungle feel in the Irish garden

Totally Tropical | How to create that Jungle feel in the Irish garden


When it comes to garden design there are so many different styles of planting. From romantic cottage gardens, minimalist approaches or self-sustainable havens, we create gardens to suit our lifestyles and our tastes. One style that I find particularly fascinating is the tropical style of garden. Admittedly, tropical is not the first style of garden you would think of when designing gardens in Ireland but with clever planning and careful choice in planting we can create some very lush schemes in the Irish garden. Particularly in walled urban spaces, this style can be a very effective and striking planting solution.

The first thing I would recommend considering is leaf structure and growing habit. Tropical plants often have very large leaves which are thick and shiny in appearance. Some of my favourites for this style of garden include the evergreen Fatsia japonica with its shiny, palmate leaves and the Dicksonia antarctica-the tree fern for their elegant expanses of feathered fronds. On the lower levels in the garden plants such as Hostas with their heart shaped foliage come into their own as well as ferns such as the Asplenium or Polypodium which can be valuable in giving the feel of the tropics to a garden. Phormium which is also known as New Zealand flax can give striking upright accents and shrubs such as Melianthus -the honey bush-can give feathery texture to the lower beds.

Colour in the tropical style garden can be cleverly included by choosing striking and unapologetically coloured blooms. I love the Canna lily but unfortunately these are not completely hardy and would need to be lifted as the weather grows colder. Hibiscus plants or the Passiflora caerulea-the blue passion flower climber are also beautiful but are also best in very sheltered spots. Hardier options would include punchy shades of Dahlias such as the stunning pink ‘American Dawn’ as well as the amazing Gloriosa superba or glory flower with its spidery, lily-like flowers. One absolute stunner of a plant is the large and hardy Hedychium gardenarium, or Kahili ginger which can grow up to 1.5metres and has unusual glamorous, yellow flowers which are also heavily scented.

Not many plants however sum up the feel of a tropical garden style in our climate as well as the wonderful Alstroemeria. The Astroemeria or Lily of the Incas is native to South America and has two centres of origin-one comes from central Chile and one from Eastern Brazil. Interestingly each has developed different characteristics depending on its origins. For example the Alstroemeria native to Chile are Winter growing plants and the ones that come from Brazil are Summer growing. Many of the stunning Lily of the Incas we know today are actually a hybrid between the two species, creating a fantastic plant that flowers almost the whole year round, making it very useful for floristry. The blooms of the plant are beautiful, exotic looking shapes reminiscent of lilies or orchids. Each stem often has many blooms and the abundance of flowers is one attribute which makes this plant very special indeed.

The colours too are wonderful, rich often warm combinations and many flowers have a variety of different colours in a single blossom. Take for example the ‘Saturne’ variety here: the one flower has both a delicate orange colour, accented with strong sunset reds as well as centres of golden yellow. Added to this beautiful mix of colour are the sprays of magenta-black which explode out from the centre of the bloom, once again reminding us of some exotic orchid varieties.

Caring for the Alstroemeria

These flowers like well drained soil and full sun to partial shade. When first planted these flowers benefit from having a generous mulch covering the roots. This is particularly important when the first frost comes to protect the roots. Every Autumn the mulch should be renewed and in Spring add some well rotten manure to encourage growth. These flowers may also benefit from some staking to avoid them from collapsing in the wind and the rain.

My top 3 varieties of the Lily of the Incas


Alstroemeria ‘Flirt’ 

this variety has a beautiful delicate pink colour with an apricot blush as well as a strong yellow spray coming form the centre of the flower. The flowers are born in June and July and the plant grows to about 90cm in height. This variety is a great addition to a romantic style border with rambling roses, spires of catmint and purple salvia varieties.


Alstroemeria ‘Venus’

This variety, which also grows to about 90cm in height, is a very delicate looking one and has papery white petals with a pink blush. It has some pastel yellow accents and maroon sprays that come out from the centre. Like all Alstroemerias this variety makes wonderful cut flower and lends itself very well to soft pastel arrangements. It’s delicate light shade makes it a favourite choice for wedding bouquets and the flowers last for a long time when picked.


Alstroemeria ‘Aurea’

This variety is one of the hardiest of the Alstroemeria species and has beautiful yellow and orange blooms in June and July. The colour is a great choice for a garden that aims to have a tropical feel with both the flower and the foliage looking impressive. This is also great for bouquets. One tip when handling these flowers is to always wear gloves as the sap in the plant can cause allergic reactions in some people.

Top tip: 

To encourage growth and plenty more blooms the flowers of the Alstroemeria should be pulled instead of cut from the plant. This will ensure plenty more flowers which can last all the way into October.


Coastal connections

When a South American beauty thrived on the Wild Atlantic Way.

This Summer I was asked to re-design the outdoor space for a lovely restaurant on the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’. The Draft House Gastropub is a cool bar and restaurant that is set on the coast in Strandhill, County Sligo and is a wonderfully designed space. Needless to say, designing coastal gardens is never an easy task particularly on the Atlantic coast where the air is laden with salt and the winds are extreme. The plants chosen for the outdoor garden space needed to be both beautiful and extremely hardy. They did however have the benefit of having some glass screens to shelter them from the elements making my choices slightly easier. I decided to go for a mix of evergreen Rosemary, both creeping and upright and combine that with some seasonal colour. Blue Hydrangeas cut into balls work very well with the blue flowering rosemary blossoms. Scatterings of orange achillea worked wonderfully in Autumn with the rusty signs on the exterior. The one plant that I decided to add for a special occasion was the Alstroemeria ‘Saturne’ and admittedly it was a bit of a risk given the location of the gastropub. Fascinatingly the flowers have kept coming and even now the flowers are still in bloom, adding a little bit of an orange glow to the outdoor space. If you find yourself in Strandhill this place is well worth a visit both for the delicious food as well as the great design, inside and out. For more visit


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