Funky Foliage, Ornamental Grasses, And Succulents

Many varieties of ornamental grasses and spiky succulents are available for all zones. 

Agaves and Yucca are hardy in my zone 6. I use them almost everywhere... as backdrops, and centerpies in my Succulent and cactus garden, in the zen garden, and around my water features

They go well with fountain grasses and those that are found in marginal bog areas. The grasses have architectural value in many garden design themes.


Autumn Ferns and Lady Ferns are easy to grow. 
The color combo of these two is stunning. 

Both are cold tolerant and thrive in shady areas with a minimal exposure to daylight. These are beautiful as your garden "floor", and in hanging baskets.


Yucca 'Color Guard'.

One of my favorite foliage plants showcased in several of my garden themes. Hardy in zones 2-10. About 24" tall. Sword-like leaves White flowers in early to mid-summer.. Drought tolerant. Resistant to rabbits and deer. It's a beautiful backdrop plant, giving height and color to your designs.

Yucca plants are hardy down to zone 2

Good Idea: 

Purchase long, lightweight, inexpensive rectangular planters. and plant 3-5 dwarf ferns or dwarf ornamental grass in each of them. Choose the shortest, hardiest ferns that have a little color... lots have orange and yellow on their fronds. Most Japanese painted ferns have shades of burgundy and silver. Both grow well, and are hardy in the northeast.

Choose dwarf banana, lemon, lime, guava, papaya, figs or pomegranate trees for the tropical look, if it's workable in your planting zone. 

Fragrant leaves and fruit scents are a bonus. Choose brightly colored pots, but avoid mexican, country, victorian, egyptian or desert themes. 
Many non-hardy dwarf fruit varieties can grow indoors in the winter. Many varieties are well-suited for patio gardens. I have dwarf lemons and limes. 

Note: Dwarf fruit trees are dwarf in size, only... The fruit is the same size as the standard tree varieties. Less space, same fruit.

For height, try Tall Canna lilies, and Brugmansia "Angel's Trumpet"

Angel Trumpets - One of my favorites. It grows super-fast in warmer climates, and they're very tall and fragrant. 

Brugmansia look great in pots in northern climates, and where they can be controled. They reach about 3 feet. 
Mine were a row against a wall, planted in-ground and they reached 6 ft. There are dwarf varieties. They are not hardy in the northeast, so you'd have to use it as an ornamental, and bring it indoors for the winter. Brightly colored succulents are great companion plant. Very pretty at the base of potted plants and along the edges of paths.

Hardy in the hotter planting zones, these can be trained as a tree, and in pots. The large and fragrant blooms are like upside-down lilies. When I gardened in Zone 8, I used to think they were a bit invasive. The stalks die in fall, and they come back up in the spring and shoot sky-wards. I didn't like the clean-up at the end of the year. Thick stalks required heavy duty lopping shears. Cutting them down at the end of the season in the south is necessary. And it was a pain in the butt. They look like dead corn stalks when they die back.

Go bold and use colorful planters and containers for ferns and other foliage plants. 
Place the low planters at ground-level, in front of taller trees and shrubs. If there's shade available under the trees, they'll love it. As the ferns grow and spread out, it will appear as though the ferns are the ground cover on a rainforest or jungle floor.

If you have the space in your small garden area, there are several beautiful vertical growing systems....4 or more rectangular pots arranged on a vertical and slanted stand, with space between the rows, in steps. These can work well for a privacy surround on your terrace or balcony. Balcony and porch railing planters work very well for plants and and vines to tumble from, and foliage can stand out among flowers in your garden planting. No empty spaces will appear between levels in the balcony and porch garden plan.

Gardens and Design Ideas
Spaces Big and Small - Break down the larger design, use hanging plants 
and vining flowers on balcony railings and big pots on terraces and patios.

These layout examples can be scaled up or down, to suit your space. 
Potted plants can replace the in-ground plantings



Decorating Your Tropical Garden

Use fallen logs, wood from trees, driftwood, and river stones 
as accessories and as part of your design. You might 
like to use some ideas from 
The Stumpery garden--->


Plan to include a water feature in your tropical garden design. Choose a simple wall or free-standing fountain, or invest in, or create a water garden that can host surrounded by reed grasses and potted plants like dwarf Egyptian papyruselephant ears, bird-of-paradise, or canna lilies, and break out the tiki torches. I use solar fountains in almost every garden bed and in my birdbaths. 


Add seating areas in which to enjoy the sound of the moving water. For a small space, try to fit in a bistro table and chair among the plants and add that fountain. If your retreat is very shady, choose an electric fountain, if you have an outlet nearby. But solar is better. My entire landscape utilizes solar power for lighting. No wires, no bills.


A few colorful metal lizard, butterflies, A sun, and frog sculptures here and there, give it a tropical habitat feel. Add a few small solar light strings with warm white light for evening ambiance.


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