A Sustainable, Eco-Friendly Tropical Garden in a Rain-Starved Region? Absolutely.

Ah, the tropics. Moist heat rolling across your skin, birds of many-colored feathers flitting by, plants and flowers bursting with unimaginable color, animals of every description, and some beyond—well, you get the picture. Drama, drama, drama is the (sometimes imaginary) draw of many tropical regions. And it’s that same dramatic look and feel that some Los Angeles garden owners fear might be found lacking in their own low-water landscapes.


These home owners step from the Los Angeles city streets right into their tropical garden, designed by Ralph Robinson

Luckily, this doesn’t have to be the case, even in an area known for droughts. Not only can you have an eco-friendly, sustainable landscape design, but you can have one with as much lush color and drama as you wish—all it takes is the right planning, design and plant selection. Below are a few ideas to get you started on dreaming of, creating, or having a professional landscape designer create your own tropical garden paradise.


Go With California Native Plants

daylily black suave

Sure many plants that are native to California more resemble something you’d find in a desert region than in a rain-forest—but even there you’ll find drama. Have you ever seen the brilliantly flowering desert plants after a rainstorm? Or noticed how easily succulents hold their color and shape? But there’s not need to simply stop with those; California abound with beautiful, colorful and dramatic native plants that can mimic their tropical cousins like daylily black suave (pictured,) various penstemons, canna lilies, Sierra lilies and many, many more. Don’t settle; if you are after a particular color or look, let your landscape architect or garden center know.


And Non-Invasive Non-Native Plants

Not all non-native plants are invasive species; some settle in and cooperate well in garden spaces. The important thing is to know which ones they are, so it’s a good idea to consult with a garden specialist or landscape design expert before making a commitment. When you’re looking beyond California for fantastic color and beauty in your plant selection, though, plants from compatible climates include those native to the Mediterranean, South Africa, Australia and similar hot and fairly dry regions.


Pay Attention to Sun, Shade and Soil

Some plants thrive in full sun and shallow, sandy soil, which is a good thing for Southern California gardens. On the other hand, some tropical plant lookalikes (as well as other types of plants) do better with a little, or even a lot, of shade, close association with other plants, and soil fortified with organic elements. A shade-loving plant that gets too much exposure, or is in the wrong kind of soil, may require more water to keep it looking its best, which pretty much defeats the purpose. If you’re working with professionals, of course they will take this into consideration, but if you’re planning out your own garden, take the time to study the soil type, where the sun falls, and when. This will help you when it comes time to plant.



bromeliadsWe’ve only scratched the surface of what is possible in your garden, as long as you have the right plant selection, and a bit of knowledge of what might fit best in your space. Still, as you can see, it’s almost always possible to have the garden of your dreams, no matter what that dream may be, with just a little creativity and experience. Even in gardens designed with a drought-ridden environment in mind.