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Best plants for your garden this summer – 13 flowers to ‘bring the tropics to your garden’

This month I’m doing something a little different. Rather than lots of July gardening jobs, I want to inspire you and bring paradise to your outdoor space. We might not be getting away to foreign shores this summer, but our outdoor spaces can bring us a touch of the tropics, the warmth, and heat of the American west, the taste and colour of Monet’s French marvel at Givenchy, or the beauty of a Mediterranean garden.

It doesn’t matter the size of your garden, you can create the perfect idyll with pots and containers, living walls, hanging baskets, window boxes and more.

Remember to make room for seating and dining areas, if possible, among the plants and always consider the introduction of some form of shelter. This can come in the guise of an umbrella, a pergola, an arbour or a sail cloth stretched between hooks and poles.

I love Thailand and the Far East in general for their rich colours, fragrances and textures; however, you can bring the tropics to your garden by growing many tender and hardy perennials, shrubs, bulbs and more.

When I think of tropical plants, large-leafed, lush varieties come to mind, to create that jungle feel.

You want a mix of larger specimens to create an upper storey and then a thick, dense carpet of greenery below.

READ MORE: ‘Make the most of summer’: How to create a flower bed that lasts more than six months

Cordyline australis, or the unfortunate name of cabbage palm, will eventually grow with a palm-like trunk and strappy leaves. Cordylines come in various colours, but the wonderful ‘Red Star’ variety has wonderful bronze-red arching leaves.

To mirror the cordyline, but at ground level, you can plant Phormium Tenax. Other varieties come in cream, pink, red, purple, and yellow.

Fatsia japonica is a great tropical-looking evergreen plant and while frost hardy may need some protection in the colder areas of the UK.

Its large, glossy palmate leaves reflect light, especially in shadier areas of the garden. Hedychium densiflorum, the ginger lily, grows to one metre in height and sends up slender spikes of scented, orange-red flowers in July and August, while Hedychium gardnerianum, the Kahill ginger lily, will flower from August to October with sweetly-fragranced yellow blooms.

Catalpa ‘Bungei’ is a dwarf form of the much larger Indian bean tree, Catalpa bignonioides. ‘Bungei’ has large heart-shaped leaves and once established has purple-pink flowers in the summer.

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Ideally, you need a palm tree, such as Trachycarpus fortunei, or the windmill palm, which is hardy in most parts of the UK.

But nothing says the tropics like a banana plant. The hardiest is Musa basjoo. The leaves will die back but it’s worth the effort. A great plant to knit the others together is Nandina domestica ‘Pink Fire’, or the heavenly bamboo, a compact, rounded shrub with white flowers and shades of fiery-red leaves in the autumn.

For colour why not grow Zantedeschia aethiopica, the arum lily bulb.

Cannas with warm orange, red and yellow flowers and colourful, large fleshy leaves make a real statement, while the pineapple flower eucomis is a hardy bulb. For a taller option try Eucomis pole-evansii which will reach 1.8 metres in height, or the shorter Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ with burgundy leaves that fade to green and upright flower spikes with masses of small star-shaped pink-white flowers.

Whenever I’m in Paris, I always take the train to Givenchy to visit the atmospheric gardens at Monet’s house, where the world-renowned waterlilies reside.

This is a garden full of annuals, biennials and perennials, as well as shrubs, climbers and trees. In fact, it is believed that 200,000 plants grow in these gorgeous gardens. If you want to create a French getaway, then there is no better place for inspiration.

Monet believed in successional planting, filling gaps with annuals and bulbs, and wanted the garden to look good for 12 months of the year – after all, it was his canvas to paint from.

He used large monochromatic blocks for visual impact and complementary colours to intensify the displays.

Down the centre of the walled garden is the Grande Allée Tunnel which is festooned with climbers and planted up below with roses, asters, larkspur, bearded irises, nasturtiums, poppies and more.

You can create something similar using three arches placed equally apart. The path below can be edged with nasturtiums while climbing and rambling roses create a tunnel effect. Repeat the planting either side with slight variances. This repetition will lead your eye through the garden.

A technique that I use, and which I learnt from my grandmother who was a flower arranger, and which Monet used regularly, was the cut-flower technique.

You arrange the cut flowers in a vase or in your hand to see if the colours, shapes and textures work together harmoniously.

This is a high-maintenance style of gardening, but can be great fun, especially if you grow most of the flowers from seed. Early in the year are crown imperials, Fritillaria imperialis, Canterbury bells, campanula, foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea, honesty, Lunaria rediviva and tulips ‘Paul Richter’ and ‘Mamasa’, as well as wallflowers, such as Erysimum cheiri ‘Mascott’ and ‘Fire King’. As spring turns to summer Iris (bearded) ‘Dark Triumph’ and ‘Henry Shaw’ alternate with daisies, Leucanthemum x superbum and oriental poppies, Papaver orientale ‘Karine’. Rosa ‘Paul’s Scarlet Climber’ and Rosa ‘Claire Martin’ scramble over arches and pergolas.

Monet’s recognisable trained ‘cloche’ (bell) or ‘champignon’ (mushroom) shapes are formed by training Rosa ‘Centenaire de Lourdes’ through a framework or ‘armature’.

Late summer is filled with the scent from the tobacco plant, Nicotiana sylvestris, Rudbeckia hirta Mon Plaisir Group, Cosmos sulphureus ‘Diablo’, Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria’, Zinnia ‘Lavender Dream’ and Lilium ‘Côte d’Azur’. Dahlia ‘Jet’, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Versailles Red’, Tithonia rotundiflora ‘Torch’, Tagetes erecta and Heliotropium arborescens see the borders into autumn.



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