Creating a Tropical Paradise

Being in the north, we are lucky to be privy to slightly warmer temperatures, especially in Mangawhai where we have a micro-climate in action and tropical plants tend to thrive. The key is making sure that they are well watered in summer and are in a sunny spot for winter to protect them from the occasional frost we experience. In saying that, some of the varieties in my own garden don’t follow these rules but I just go with it. Often it’s a case of trial and error for where you plant your tropical friends and you’ll soon find the best spots for your plants to survive and thrive.

If you have purchased plants at the end of summer, keep them inside to get a bit bigger and stronger before planting them outside come spring when things are warming up, making sure to give a good dose of plant food when planting then another dose again each spring.

When it comes to creating a tropical oasis in your backyard, plants with large leaves and pops of colour work best when layered. This style of garden is very on trend, mainly due to the fact that they are mostly easy care, but also don’t need to be too tidy. Overflowing borders and disorganised locations all create the look. Here are some key varieties that you can plant to get the look.

Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia Reginae)

This South African plant is an evergreen that can get pretty large when untamed, but there are miniature varieties available that grow to around 1-1.5m and still produce lots of the colourful stems that they are known for. They are a slow grower but when fully mature will bloom beautifully and prefer to be outdoors than inside. They like moist soil and lots of light, they don’t really require feeding, but once a year top up with rich compost. These beauties don’t need pruning back, but you may wish to remove the stems of your already flowered tips to keep it tidy.

Monstera (Monstera Deliciosa)

Quite possibly one of the trendiest plants over the last five years that shows no sign of letting up. Unfortunately, this means that they are now pretty pricey, with a small plant costing around $140. The great news is they grow like anything and once larger, you can propagate your own little Monstera babies! These are a climbing plant to it’s important to ensure that your plant is well supported. Monstera prefers filtered light as the direct sun can be a little harsh, they prefer not to be in a permanently wet place so plant somewhere a little drier and water periodically.

Banana Palm (Musa Acuminata)

I love the leaves on banana palms, they have great shade creating foliage. Be warned, banana palms can get pretty big so they need a lot of space. Much like the Monstera, they prefer full to partial sun and well-drained soil that is moist at all times, the wind doesn’t bother them too much and they are rather hardy. The leaves can, however, be susceptible to sunburn so keep that in mind. They are a heavy feeder and if you are wanting it to fruit, you’ll need to give them a dose every month or two.


Part of the pineapple family, these plants have a lot of varieties and are super easy to grow, the smaller ones work well on tropical borders or bigger ones as feature plants. They love light, but not direct sunlight as they can dry out and prefer to be planted in a coarse mix with good drainage. To keep your plant happy, ensure to keep the centre topped up with water, this allows the plant to drip feed itself directly into the roots. They can get pretty big over 10 years and if you’re lucky it may flower, but a bromeliad will only flower once in its life. Once its flowered, you can propagate the babies it produces.

Puka (Meryta Sinclairii)

The Meryta Sinclairii variety of the Puka is the New Zealand variety. They are an evergreen plant with large paddle like leaves, it’s an impressive tree and it looks great in patio pots too, but ensure that it does not become too root-bound as it likes to let loose. These guys do not enjoy the wind (as I have discovered) but can handle a little so plant in a sheltered area that doesn’t get too much full sun, somewhere with the morning sun is ideal. It likes moist soil but keep well-drained, these guys will get pretty big and can grow 4-6m high so keep that in mind.

Frangipani (Plumeria)

What tropical garden would be complete without a frangipani?! These trees are beautiful and the smell of their highly fragrant flowers is beautiful. Despite being so pretty, they are pretty hardy and do well in any soil, so long as it’s well-drained. As you’d expect they like plenty of sun and prefer to be warm through winter (who doesn’t) so keep that in mind when choosing a spot in your garden. With being a flowering plant, choose a fertiliser that promotes their blooms.

Canna Lily (Canna Indica)

Not a relative of the lily at all, these leafy plants with hot pink, bright red, orange or yellow ruffled flowers grow so well in Northland, you’ll often see them growing on the roadside as you come up to Mangawhai. They require minimal effort, you don’t even really need to prune them if you don’t have time, although they do look best when they’ve had a tidy up after flowering and it is recommended that you prune them right back in June/July post flowering. These guys are pretty foolproof and unfussy when it comes to soil, they don’t even mind a damp spot but do like to be in the sunshine.



Words Jean Raleigh

Gather Magazine Digital


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