I’m totally thrown by tropical gardens, or at least by tropical plants. I can’t shake the conviction that, given a tropical climate, I wouldn’t have a clue how to use them effectively together.
Playing with plants in my home climate, its clear that there’s no virtue in restraint when it comes to foliage textures.
You simply have to use the full range of leaf sizes available, from the biggest, boldest (and sometimes coarsest) through to the finest at all times if you’re going to love the effect.
The trouble I know I’d hit straight away when working with tropical plants is that the balance is tipped enormously in favour of huge leaves, with not nearly enough fine-leafed plants to stop all the large ones simply cancelling each other out.
Size is, after all, only ever relative, and large leaves only look effectively large or dramatic if they’re contrasting with smaller ones nearby.
Cooler or drier climates suffer from a glut of small foliages. The trouble in them is to get enough really BIG leaves. That’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge I’m used to facing.
Flower textures aren’t nearly so important, but still need some consideration. Again, in the tropics there’s a leaning towards the incredibly bold, showy flower, like those mad heliconias. They’re totally arresting in a tall vase with nothing else, but put too many of them together in the garden and they lose their power and clarity. In temperate planting, I’m forever thinking about using big bold flowers alongside finer, fuzzier ones. In the tropics there just doesn’t seem to be enough of the latter to carry off the former.
Finally there’s all that crazy foliage colour available in the tropics. I’m of the opinion that there is some virtue in restraint when it comes to foliage colour – that its power is in indirect proportion to its usage. Even in temperate climates where there’s nothing like the options or extravagance in foliage colour, you’ve got to be careful. This isn’t a matter of good-taste squeemishness, its about maximum impact, and the moment you’ve played the foliage-colour card too often, the trick gets boring. Tropical plants offer just so much punch in this department that it requires more restraint than just about any gardener has to stick to a basic reference palette of green, and to use the foliage colour available as an occasional highlight. Having said that, I’m immediately thinking that it could be fun, if bizarre, to make a whole garden of pinky-red leaves, and use green as the occasional aberrant highlight. It’d be as if you were looking at the whole thing through pink-red glass.
Nup. Delete that. I’m bored with the idea already. I think I’d better stick with my comfort-climate.