For those who want a taste of the tropical in their gardens there is no shortage of exotic-looking plants, all at home and hardy in the British Isles.

Where better to begin than with something as foreign-looking as a palm. The Chusan or Windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, is a native of the cool and misty hillsides of central China. It is the hardiest of palms, withstanding temperatures down to -15C when established (and a beautiful and dramatic sight in the snow). It can reach 20ft in height, but grows fairly slowly, perhaps at a rate of 6 to 12 inches a year, depending on how much food and water it gets. It will also live happily in a pot for many years, which will check its growth.

At any size, this palm makes an impressive sight, with its distinctive crown of fan-shaped fronds up to 3ft across. These are held on rough, toothed leaf-stalks, which spring from a solid, single trunk covered in a mat of fibres as thick as horse hairs. Although it will stand a good deal of cold and will grow in sun or partial shade, it should be placed out of buffeting winds which will damage the leaves.

Most large-leaved plants lend themselves to lush, tropical effects and the striking, architectural foliage of Acanthus mollis "Latifolius" is no exception.

The Greeks and Romans used this plant's shape widely to decorate buildings - and it is plain to see why. Few herbaceous plants produce foliage as handsome as this - long, lobed, polished, deep-green leaves up to 4ft in length. They will make a fine clump at the base of the palm and produce 3ft-long prickly spires of unusual, mauve and white, two-toned flowers.

The colour and habit of the final plant - a hardy bamboo - is in complete contrast to the Acanthus foliage. Pleioblastus viridistriatus has long, brilliant-yellow, 6in leaf blades with acid-green striations along their length. They hang from purple-green canes that can reach 5ft in height but are best chopped hard back to the ground each spring. This encourages bright new growth, reaching about 3ft each season. All of these plants will thrive in fertile soil that is moist but well drained and in sun or light shade, although the bamboo will lose some of its colour if the light levels are too low.

John the Gardener

Three plants that look good together:

Trachycarpus fortunei

Acanthus mollis `Latifolius'

Pleioblastus viridistriatus

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