How to have a beautiful garden all summer

Will Giles from the Exotic Garden in Norwich suggests ways to maximise your garden.


Traditional gardens with herbaceous borders come to a crescendo in June and early July and then gently wither and fade into their autumn colours. Many years ago I also used the more traditional border planting that goes with this style of gardening. I found it disappointing when August and September arrived to find vast blank areas in the garden with little to spark the imagination, thus the search was on to find plants that would be coming to a peak at these times.

With much experimentation and head scratching, I began researching plants that would look fresh and full of vigour with months of growth ahead of them. Tropical and sub-tropical plants were incorporated with the more traditional perennial plants in the borders at the Exotic Garden, thus creating a more jungle-like world of huge shiny leaves, bold outrageouscolours and ferny textures. It is possible to change the look of a traditional perennial border by skilfully placing just a few tropical plants in the right place for impact. This garden style relies on using traditional tropical plants as well as tropical looking temperate zone plants to create the feel of a more exotic/tropical setting. Many fast growing exotic annuals can also be used to give instant height and colour to the garden.


Using tropicals in the garden is nothing new. Plant collectors have grown and collected them for hundreds of years. Annuals such as pelargoniums,impatiens and begonias are actually tropical in nature. During the Victorian period, tropicals were all the rage, especially in the larger London parks and gardens. Lavish outdoor displays were created during the summer months which gained enormous proportions by high summer. These more tender plants were then moved into “glass houses” to be over-wintered for use in the next season’s garden. This style of gardening was novel and new at the time.

In recent years this style has seen a revival, because it tends to draw attention to the garden in a way no other planting can. If it’s attention you want, just incorporate a few tropical plants into a flower border and wait for the second looks, stares, ooh’s and aha’s from visitors to your garden. Many of these plants are truly jaw-dropping in their proportions and overall appearance. Your guests will be transported to much hotter climes where the planting is lush and the senses over awed.

It is relatively easy to create a unique display of tropical foliage as long as you have some form of protection from the prevailing winds and a tranquil corner of the garden to grow some of these gems. In most cases, we enjoy summers that are relatively sunny, with heat and humidity along with the occasional (or should I say frequent) heavy rain storm, which plants love.These conditions fuel the growth of tropicals into high gear so that even ifyou start out with relatively small specimens, they grow unbelievably fast and turn into large, imposing plants in a matter of weeks if the environment is favourable for good growth and they are well fed – most important!


A border planted with tropicals gets better as the season progresses and can continue through September into October. Many popular houseplants such as the rubber plant, dieffenbachia, Chlorophytum,Spathiphyllum, and croton, when rescued from dark corners of your home, make excellent additions to the exotic border once acclimatised to the stronger light conditions. You can grow these tropical exotics directly in the ground or in containers placed together in imposing groups. Many exotics like cannas, bananas and ferns can be planted outpermanently if correctly sited. Most of these plants are now relatively easy to obtain from garden centres and DIY stores as well as specialist nurseries.


Create an instant garden by moving exotic looking house plants such as Bromeliads, Chlorophytum, Monstera, Tradescantia and Platycerium into the garden for the summer months. Tie them to the branches of trees to create a truly exotic and magical feel.

Plants in containers can be placed by entrances, patios and decks or plunged into the ground in perennial borders or amongst shrubs to brighten up dull areas. This makes it easier to move them inside for the winter. If you do not own a greenhouse, plants will often survive tucked against a house next to a south or west facing wall which will give your cherished plants extra protection on the coldest knights of the year, especially if you use some sacking or fleece to give them a little extra protection. If you do decide to try plants such as the rubber plant outside, these must be brought back in to a cool room in your house for the winter as truly tropical plants will not take frosty conditions at all.

Footnote on September 14th 2015

Sadly we have recently lost this genius gardener. Will inspired thousands with his creative flair and vision for UK gardening. He will be forever missed but his philosophy for pushing the boundaries by planting a range of exotic plants in the UK will always live on with his excellent book:

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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Juliette Faithful Says:

    I think this is a wonderful blog with so much incredible information,stunning pics and lots of ideas to think about.

    The content on this blog is absolutely unrivalled. I will certainly be happy to send my friends over for ideas for their gardens.

    Climate change is a big worry but we are just going to have to embrace the changes (whilst still doing our utmost to reduce emmissions and waste etc). Adapting our own back yards is a great idea!


  2. nhnursery Says:

    Wow! What stunning pictures and content!

  3. Elvera Says:

    Coming from S.E. Asia, I do miss the lushness of the tropical plants all year round. I tried planting canna lilies and got beautiful blooms, they were hardier than I thought. I left them in the ground and they came up again next summer.

  4. Will Giles Says:

    Tropical plants are fabulous and delightfully over-the-top! Luckily quite a few – especially those from cooler regions or higher elevations in the tropics, give us many garden plants that work well in cooler temperate climates, especially if you are prepared to do a little work in protecting them during the colder months of the year…