How to Design an Exotic Garden

Want to add some exotic varieties to your garden? This design guide will show you how to spice things up.
Natural Habitats Created Around Backyard Pond

Natural Habitats Created Around Backyard Pond

Create conditions for some plant groups, such as ones that need to be by water or in a bog garden, an acidic peat bed , or shady woodland.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Create conditions for some plant groups, such as ones that need to be by water or in a bog garden, an acidic peat bed , or shady woodland.

Most gardeners love plants, but for some they are a real passion. Providing conditions for exotic specimens is part of the challenge; so is creating year-round beauty. With planning you can adapt your space to suit almost any plant. 

Start by familiarizing yourself with microclimates and soil conditions so that you can develop diverse planting situations. Deep borders can offer room for attractive plant arrangements, and even walls and fences can be utilized by attaching units, pots, and baskets. Favored specimens and collections will look even more striking if mixed with a variety of foliage and flowers. 

Squeeze in a sitting area by growing fragrant plants over a pergola, and conceal propagation or maintenance areas behind screening plants or vine-covered trellis panels. Create narrow, foliage-fringed paths leading to open spaces to provide contrast and variety in the garden, and to give additional planting opportunities. 

Key Design Elements for an Exotic Garden

  • Vertical planting: Use wires or trellis to create a climbing frame on any vertical surface; grow climbers and wall shrubs over archways or pergolas. In the right conditions specimens can be combined to great effect.
  • Unusual varieties: Creating the right environment for a prize plant can be a challenge. It could entail creating a particular microclimate or soil type or, for large, frost-sensitive plants, wrapping them in position for winter.
  • Special collections: Once you begin collecting, you may focus on acquiring specific genera or groups, such as succulents. Show these off with an auricula theater or tiered displays on greenhouse or patio staging.
  • Generous planting: If you have trouble squeezing in new plants, curb over-vigorous types and give away those that no longer interest you. Use potted plants to  fill gaps in borders and to invigorate your planting designs.
  • Niche habitats: Some plant groups can’t be accommodated in conventional borders so you’ll need to create conditions to suit them, such as a water or bog garden, an acidic peat bed, or shady woodland.
  • Plant protection: Exotic and tender plants require a frost-free shelter, ideally a heated greenhouse or sunroom. Some alpines need protection with a cold frame,  while ferns and some orchids will thrive in a humid shade house.
  • Tender specimens: In warmer months, cacti, palms, tender succulents, and citrus may be moved outside to add a Mediterranean feel to patios and decks. Others may be placed in borders for an exotic touch.

Other Additions to Consider: 

  • Behind the scenes: Invest in a greenhouse or cold frame to store any plants that are temporarily off display. 
  • Natural plantings: Create wild-looking groupings of plants from a particular geographic region. 
  • Trained shapes: Show off your skills with clipped topiary shapes, trained fruits, and flowering standards.
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