June 7, 2024

Jungle boogie

Think a jungle garden can’t be achieved in Adelaide’s dry, Mediterranean climate? Think again. From bamboo to bright flowers, big leaves to bold foliage, here are some inventive ways to transform your backyard.

Ghost Bamboo

Occasionally, I get the privilege of walking through a garden that takes my breath away and makes me rush home to try and figure out how I can recreate it in my own backyard. They are few and far between but when you get the rare chance to appreciate a garden that deeply resonates with you, it’s hard to not want to tell people about it.

On a recent detour enroute to the shops, I audibly gasped at a sight out of my window and quickly, without really thinking about it, pulled over and got out the car. I was looking at one of the most magnificent echiums I’d ever seen. It was obviously very old and had been well maintained over the years.

Strelitzia Reginae flower

Next thing I knew, I was knocking on the door and trying to explain myself. I asked if I could take some photos of their beautiful garden out the front of their house. “Sure,” the lovely lady said, “but you might want to come out the back first”. She led me through the living room and kitchen toward the back of the house and introduced me to the creator of the garden masterpiece, her husband, who proudly invited me to come outside.

What I stepped out into was nothing short of incredible. Fifty years of foliage, fronds and flowers that delivered one of the most beautiful backyard views I’d ever seen. It was a jungle of giant bird’s nest ferns, clivias in flower, cane begonia touching the shade cloth roof and baby’s tears creeping all over the “forest” floor. It was so lush and full and wild it was like a scene out of a movie.

Bromeliad flower

I didn’t quite know where to look first, it was such a feast for the eyes. There were ponds and ferns, water plants and lilies. Multiple hanging baskets overflowing with begonia and bromeliads, quirky statues nestled in among the base of the plants and pots of succulents were crammed in everywhere. “Come this way,” my guide suggested as we rounded a corner.

Colour! Bromeliads, euphorbia and echium were in flower. The canna, succulents and tradescantia were mixed in among the complementary foliage of monstera and palms, filling in the undergrowth and spaces left by the larger plants. It was my type of garden, one that evolves over the years as it is added to and changed bit-by-bit until so full that there’s no space left. A magic microclimate that allows the interesting and unique to flourish and thrive.


A jungle garden that thrives in our Adelaide climate can be achieved. Creating canopy is a good start and after that it’s easy. Big leaves, bold foliage and bright flowers are needed. Give these varieties a go to achieve those tropical jungle vibes that make you feel as if you’re on holiday all-year round:

Brugmansia for their huge leaves, creation of a canopy and massive flowers. Sun-loving or part shade. These are so fast growing that you will have a canopy within 12 months, after which you can start to underplant. The constant formation of flowers that change colour seemingly overnight is a sight to behold.

Yellow Clivia

Clivia for the bold spring flowers – shade loving and tough! Clivias are a dream for lining a path and walkways with a spring statement. A rewarding plant that continues to give as it grows and is easily dug up, divided and replanted. Perfect for pots and patios being able to go long periods without much water.

Euphorbia lambii for interesting foliage. Sun loving or part shade. These unique small two-metre trees are usually single stemmed with a rounded neat canopy that is iridescent green in early spring with bract-like flowers. A fantastic plant for smaller spaces and to grow to fence height.

Bromeliad flower

Bromeliads for colour and texture down low. In shade to part shade, bromeliads are a tropical garden lovers dream. In pots or in the ground, on a tree trunk or log, bromeliads can create an exotic colourful garden with ease. Be careful, they are addictive and you might find yourself becoming a collector sooner than you think.

Spear and Gymea lily (Doryanthus species) for large statement foliage. Shade to full sun. If you want big bold foliage that isn’t nasty and sharp, this is your plant. Fill a corner, or make it the centrepiece, their foliage is a brilliant contrast to other traditional foliage.

Java Black bamboo

Abyssinian Banana (ornamental) full sun to full shade. This versatile majestic plant will grow fast and offer those big lush tropical leaves very quickly. Fill a corner or use in multiples throughout a larger space, the Banana will be a large feature for five to eight years until flowering and dying.

Clumping Bamboo for screening or pots. Sun to part shade, clumping bamboo such as Goldstripe, Gracilis or China Gold are perfect for screening. Clumping bamboo develops a clump or footprint rather than sending out runners like old-style bamboo. A quick instant jungle vibe plant that just about grows inches every day. Try Ghost or Java Black for an ornamental one-off specimen plant.


Ferns for lush thick ground fillers. Many ferns spread easily and will fill in readily around the base of larger plants once enough shade is created. A particular favourite is the Polypodium which has big, heavily dissected fronds of a glossy dark green, perfect to contrast with lighter shades.

Yucca desmetiana for colour and sun. This small soft leaf yucca is a perfect mid-storey plant growing to about 1.2 metres and staying narrow and tidy. The more sun the better the intense purple colour, making it a great contrast plant in among the greens.

Fatsia spider web

Fatsia japonica (spiderweb) for mid-storey canopy. Shade to dappled shade. This unique and interesting plant is a firm favourite of mine. Definitely not an indoor plant as it will lose its colour, an inground shady spot is perfect and will create a mid-storey canopy within a few years for even more shade loving plants underneath.

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