How To Create A Cool And Refreshing Tropical Garden

October 14, 2023

Gardening in Florida and Other Tropical and Subtropical Regions

This is what we have learned about the benefits of adding cool colors, especially shades of blue, to create a cool and refreshing tropical garden. If you would like your garden to have resort-like tropical elements but with a sense of space and coolness on the warmest days, try out our proven ideas.

Our Tropical Gardens-The Features We Love

The image at the top is Marrakech-based Majorelle Gardens, perhaps the world’s most famous cool blue garden and one of the leading tropical gardens anywhere. It was built over many years by the French artist Jacques Majorelle and later restored by the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. It is built with enhanced water features in a climate where water is a sacred luxury. Note the bold use of cobalt blue with yellow accents.

If you travel to Marrakech, here is how to visit ‘Le Jardin Majorelle.’ This is the website of the garden, run today by a foundation. They recommend buying tickets in advance.

tropical foliage

Tropical gardens are made up of dense, interlocking layers of bold foliage with large leaves, exotic shapes, and oversized blossoms. You will often find the foliage in architectural shapes, with wide hands of spreading leaves, formed in heart or diamond shapes, or having sword-like points. The plant’s features make it easy to create a vacation-like and private space in your backyard. If you then add the sound of moving water, you have a space for relaxation and rejuvenation right in the backyard!

That’s what we love about our tropical gardens.

Colors We Have Come To Love In Our Tropical Gardens

Tropical Flowers, 

Creating a cool and refreshing tropical garden.

Our equatorial gardens pulse with life, colored in vivid shades from the hot side of the color wheel. Foliage appears bearing every shade of green and often includes leaves in hot colors and dramatic patterns. Blooms are oversized and vibrate with hot colors: red, pink, orange, and the most vivid yellows. Sometimes, these are all encapsulated in a single leaf.

Why We Might Like A Cool And Refreshing Tropical Garden

We are tropical gardeners now, and we love all the luxurious features. But who doesn’t like a change now and then? Try these steps if you are considering adding new colors to your garden.

  • First get a color wheel and learn to use its simple features.
color Wheel
(Creating a cool and refreshing tropical garden)
  • Now, note the three primary colors, Red, Blue, and Yellow; these are the source colors, equidistant from each other. They are called the primary colors because you can’t make them from any combination of colors; all other colors are made by blending them.
  • Located between the primary trio are the secondary colors, made by combining equal amounts of two primary colors. You make the tertiary colors by blending a primary color with its next adjacent secondary color.
  • Look across the wheel to the opposite color, and you will find its complement, orange. You can feel confident using these colors together because they balance each other visually.
  • Now look at two colors side by side on the wheel, perhaps orange and yellow; they are analogous colors and they are another way to select colors, your outcome will be bright but relaxing. Use these in combination if you want a little less contrast than you will get from complimentary colors.
  • Whatever your choices, a color wheel will help you identify combinations you will enjoy in your garden.

Cool Colors And Why We Should Consider Them In Our Tropical Gardens

Blue Tropical flowers

There is a place for cool colors in any garden; in warm weather gardens cool cool colors will produce features that the hot, tropical shades cannot provide.

  • Cool colors will make your garden a calming space. If I have a space in my tropical garden with vivid orange blossoms and surround them with purple or blue, the environment will calm down but still be striking.
  • Florida gardens, ours included, tend to be small. Cool colors, blue, green, and purple, appear to recede in the landscape and will make the garden appear bigger.
  • Got a favorite hot-colored planting, perhaps a red rose or a bougainvillea? Plant it near a large green shrub, and It will stand out more.
  • Is there a place where the colors appear jarring? Add an adjacent color, yellow, next to green, for example. The space will seem more calm yet still defined.
  • Cool colors can make a hot climate garden feel cooler.
  • The garden will feel more relaxing in cool colors.

Selecting Color For The Garden

Try this color wheel with more color choices. Use it to identify analogous colors for a more monochromatic garden or complimentary colors for greater contrast. Look at the blue shades; they are rare and desirable. Look at blue, orange, purple, and yellow or more subtle orange and yellow. Try some out.

Color Wheel two

Some Notes On Color In The Garden

To try new color combinations, include annual flowers in your design. It is a low-cost way to try out different effects. Also, in warm climates, you don’t need to take the winter off, you can change the look every season. Here is some informationabout adding annuals:

‘How to Blend Annual Bedding Plants in The Garden.

Your Neutral Background, Light Conditions, Painting Your Landscape

Remember that your garden is primarily green, and green is your major neutral color. In your green spaces, emphasize shades, textures and patterns to make the green spaces interesting. this will make the whole garden more interesting. You can add other neutral shades for better punctuation. Shades of gray or white between beds of different colors will highlight each bed. Also, using white in shady areas will draw distinctions.

Full sun gardens tend to lighten the colors used. This means that a darker or brighter shade of blue or any other color (warm or cool) will show up best in full sun. The colors you choose, and where you put them will affect the picture you are making. Cool colors placed at a distance will add a spacious feeling, just as a landscape painter does to add a sense of distance.

Blue-Cool And Refreshing But The Most Challenging Color To Add To The Garden

We have green leaves because of the pigment in chlorophyll, but the color blue is rare in nature because there is no chemical compound to create a blue pigment. Only one of ten flowering plants has blue blooms, and blue leaves are far rarer! (A few plants on the rainforest floor have them.)

Do we value blue for its beauty or its rarity? For example, Lapis Lazuli is a rare blue rock used as a semi-precious stone. Humans have always valued shades of blue; lapis was used in the funeral mask of Tunhankhamun, and Renaissance artists ground the rock into a powder to make paint. When we get our hands on something in the color blue, we want to use it. Banks and financial advisors use the color to promote trustworthiness.

Here are some ways to find blue blooms for your warm-climate garden.

Cool Blue Flowering Shrubs For Your Warm Climate Garden

Perennial shrubs are a good place to start; they are medium to large plants and bloom in blue for all or most of the year and, therefore, will create an impact in the garden. Here are some good choices with their required growing conditions. I am including names of varieties and cultivars that will offer specific features such as size and bloom colors.

NB: A variety is a naturally occurring variation within a plant (genus and species), and a cultivar is created in a greenhouse to serve a desired purpose.

The Short List: Three Unique, Blue Blooming Plants

These three will make dramatic choices in warm climate gardens within areas such as Florida, the Gulf Coast and Southern California. Each plant offers some special features, I have added some shopping information at the end.

One: Blue Plumbago Plumbago auriculata

NB: There are various plants with the name plumbago, this one Plumbago auriculata is the blue flowering shrub for hardiness Zones 9 to 11. (Possibly zone 8 in sheltered areas.)

Blue Plumbago, is a handsome, simple shrub that encompasses a wide range of sizes, and accommodates soil that is acid, neutral or even alkaline. You can use it as a shrub, large or small, a hedge, an accent plant or privacy barrier. It makes a good center or rear of the bed layer too, depending on how large you allow it to grow. In addition it has moderate vining features and the smaller varieties will grow successfully in containers. In the cooler zones you can bring the plant indoors for the winter or mulch it heavily.

You can find plumbago in dwarf varietieties, several shades of blue and a few with white flowers.

Planting, Growing And Maintenance For Blue Plumbago

Plant your plumbago in full sun and in well-drained soil any time of year. This is a plant amenable to varieties of soil and to some extent sun, as it will accept some part sun conditions. Moderately drought tolerant once established, the plant will require regular water to establish. Feed plumbago with any balanced, time-release fertilizer of your choice.

Blue Plumbago Plant Data Sheet
Creating a cool and refreshing tropical garden)

Varieties Of Blue Plumbago To Consider

This listing will show varieties of blue plumbago; here is how to read the plant names. The genus is capitalized and written in italics. The species follows in italics and is not capitalized. Write the name of the natural occurring variety in italics, do not capitalize it and placce it after the species name. The human-made cultivar is written in normal text and is capitalized and surrounded in single quotation marks.

Blue Plumbago is written as Plumbago auriculata ‘Dark Blue’ is a cultivar you can plant. When buying plants for your garden look them up this way and you will take delivery of the plant you wanted to buy!

  • Plumbago auriculata ‘Imperial Blue’-This is the most planted cultivar of blue plumago.
  • Plumbago auriculata ‘Escapade’-A series in white and blue. Smaller plants often used in containers.
  • Plumbago auriculata ‘Monott’-dark blue will reach 5′ tall and 6-8′ wide, sold as Royal Cape.
  • Plumbago auriculata ‘Dark Blue’-Compact, 18-28″ high, 20-24″ wide.

Shopping for Blue Plubago: you should find the popular ‘Imperial Blue’ in regional big box stores and definitely in local garden centers. Other varieties, especially the dark blue colors will be more difficult to find.

I found several choices of online dealers by searching for the full name: Plumbago auriculata ‘Dark Blue’.

Two: Phillipine Violet Barleria cristata

The Philippine Violet, (not a violet and not from the Philippines) is a dramatic shrub with remarkable blue-lavender trumpet-shaped blossoms.

This source of lavender-blue for your garden is a herbaceous perennial that grows in a dense, compact, medium-sized shrub that will reach 36-48″ in height. The dark green leaves have an attractive, puckered effect, and the bloom is trumpet-shaped and attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. It is hardy in Zones 9-11. The plant is easy to propagate by cuttings and will self-seed.

Drought tolerant, the plant grows successfully in well-drained soil in either full or partial sun.

Philippine Violet
(Creating a cool and refreshing tropical garden)

Shopping for the Philippine Violet: This unique offering is rarely found in garden centers. Take these steps to fine one for your garden. Start with your best local garden center, and also check local wholesale plant breeders or dealers. You will find these through online dealers, plant shows, or sales within their growing region.

Three: Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow Brunfelsia pauciflora

A plant with a bonus you will appreciate every day, the plant with the long name, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, is the quintessential combination of tropical flair combined with cool colors. The bonus comes from the colors-three of them. And you will find them, all in one plant!

This medium-sized shrub blooms in deep blue-purple on the first day; the bloom turns lavender on the second day and white on day three. The effect is a plant with multi-colored flowers throughout its bloom period.

Try this plant combined with shades of orange and tangerine for a memorable effect in your garden.

Yesterday Today and Tomorrow plant

(creating a cool and refreshing tropical garden)

If your climate is cooler than the recommended zones, you can grow this plant in a container and bring it indoors for the winter.

Shopping for the Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: you will find this plant at specialty growers and dealers located in the growing regions.


Tropical gardens tend to be viewed as places for dramatic hot colors, but as we see from our famous garden and some of our plant options, we have choices. Sometimes, cooling things down a bit has benefits we can appreciate. If your goal is to create a peaceful retreat in your garden, adding cool colors can help you reach your goals!


Blue Flowers-IFAS

‘Gardening in Florida-How to Add Blue Flowers’

‘How to Grow a Blooming Florida Garden: a Regional Guide for North, Central and South Florida.

‘Agapanthus, How to Grow the Lily of the Nile.’

The Florida Friendly Guide To Landscape and Plant Selection– you can download this complete guide to warm climate planting.

Images of a Caribbean Garden

‘Latin for Gardeners-How to Read and Remember Plant Names’