Finding inspiration for a French tropical garden


In the tropical climate of the French territory of New Caledonia, gardening can be challenging. But when I visit the Salon de l’horticulture, I realise the steamy tropical weather is perfect for growing some very beautiful and interesting plants.

When first arriving in the French territory of New Caledonia, it seems that only about half a dozen plant varieties grew here. All I see are coconut and banana palms, bougainvilleas, hibiscus and mangroves. For a newly arrived expat with a garden of bare dirt, how can I find inspiration to create my own jardin tropical?

The answer is the annual Salon de l’horticulture!

8209394041_09da38f949_bThis plant event is an exposition in my local town of Pouembout. Every year about 40 New Caledonian pépinières from across the island come together to display and sell their botanical wares in a gorgeous mélange of colour and texture.

So it is, on a blistering and blindingly sunny morning, that we are greeted at the bougainvillea-treated gate of the local sports complex. Inside, protected from the spring sunshine by rows of coloured canopies, are hundreds of pots of vibrant tropical plants.

We wander past stunning Heliconias with large sprays of waxy flowers in bright yellows, reds and oranges. Row upon row of varieties of Bromeliad with hot pink centres. Fascinating gingers, including the intriguing beehive ginger, complete with faux bees.


I’m even able to find the beautiful but mysterious plant I bought at a market several weeks  earlier – I now know it to be a torch ginger. Mystery solved!

There are many plants I’ve seen before – anthurium and spathyphillum, often used as indoor plants, plus begonias, hibiscus and cordylines – but these specimens are much brighter and healthier.

Clearly, the New Caledonian lifestyle agrees with these plants!

A plant which I haven’t seen before is the adenium, or flowering Desert Rose, with its swollen trunk. I’m tempted to buy one – it looks like a ready-made bonsai!

Inside the small stadium, protected from the rising heat outside, are the cut flowers and more shade-loving plants. The displays of bouquets, in particular, make me realise just how versatile the large flowers could be – not just for a lush garden, but also stunning in a vase.


A plant which I’ve spotted in many New Caledonian gardens is the ferocious-looking variety of euphorbia called Crown of Thorns.

This plant has pretty clusters of flowers – but keep your distance – those stems are just covered in horrible thorns! Sadly, not an ideal plant for my garden – my toddler daughter would have to learn to ‘look and not touch’ the hard way.

Finally, the heat has become too much for this expat family. We reluctantly retreat, with a small selection of plants for our nascent garden, to cool drinks at home. But the Salon de l’horticulture has inspired me.With so many awesome plants which thrive in this little French territory, surely I can create my own little jardin du paradis? Can it be done? We’ll see!

1. Bougainvilleas adorn the entrance gate
2. Lush  tropical plants under the coloured canopies
3. A pink adenium – nature’s readymade bonsai
4. Brilliant examples of tropical flowers as bouquets
5. An assortment of the prickly Crown of Thorns plant

About the Contributor

Rachelle Burgoyne

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