NZ Palms, Cycads and Subtropical Plants

Landscaping with Himalayan Plants and Palms in New Zealand.

The tough Chinese Windmill Palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, looks quite at home when planted amongst traditional flowering plants.

Himalayan gardens are cool and tranquil. Stands of bamboo and Trachycarpus provide protection for flowering bushes and gingers. Looming large are the exotic silhouettes of giant Fishtail Palms.


This one’s a little different in that we’re not always used to seeing palm trees in a setting with more traditional plants such as roses and camellias. Still, it’s such a natural combination in the Himalayas and works perfectly – not just in northern New Zealand but throughout the country.

Deciduous magnolia trees are a delight when in flower during spring.
Tall stands of bamboo will add authenticity to a Himalayan garden as well as provide protection from wind and sun.
The delightful Lady Palm, Rhapis excelsa, makes a wonderful plant in the Himalayan garden is protected from full sun.
Tall fishtail palms such as this Caryota palm are an essential when landscaping a Himalayan garden.

The Himalayan garden is more open than the tropical or rainforest garden and as such plant larger trees sparingly. Two recommendations for larger trees however; the Maidenhair Tree, Ginkgo biloba, and a few of the deciduous magnolias. The latter may be found with flowers of white, cream, yellow, and even black (well, deepest burgundy).

Bamboo is essential for the Himalayan garden. If you’ve the space, try some of the really huge species with thick canes. Several stands of such bamboos will not only provide protection from the wind they’ll be a feature of the garden for years to come.

That’s a shame as, when grown with some protection from the wind, a well maintained Chinese Windmill Palm is quite striking. What’s more, in cooler climates this palm looks considerably better. We found the humble Trachycarpus fortunei looks spectacular in London’s cool-temperate climate supporting a giant head of large fronds. The good news is that ever so slowly new species are becoming available that are better suited to Auckland and Northland’s warm climate.

Now some more exotic touches courtesy of several other plants native to the area. First a clump or two of hardy bananas. They’ll remind you that this garden has more in common with the tea plantations of the Indian hill stations than suburban New Zealand. In the same vein we suggest a planting of gingers (again, native to the area) and in sheltered spots clumps of Cymbidium orchids.

Colourful Rhododendrons are in keeping with the cool feel of this garden style.
Likewise, masses of Azaleas provide much-needed spring colour in the Himalayan garden.
Roses also originate in this part of the world and look great when planted alongside more ‘formal’ palm trees like the Chinese Windmill Palm.
As with other traditional plants Camellias are a welcome addition to the Himalayan garden.
Clumps of banana trees contrast well with more traditional plants.
Orchids provide a nice touch in a sheltered, darker spot in the garden.

© NZ Palms, Cycads and Subtropical Plants 2019

Now, there’s one type of palm tree that can’t be ignored in the Himalayan garden – the Fishtail Palm. Among the several species available in New Zealand two excellent choices are the Giant Fishtail Palm, Caryota gigas, and the tall Himalayan Fishtail Palm, Caryota maxima. Both provide structure and beauty to the garden but should be used sparingly because of their size.


More conventional and perfect for cooler climates, the Chinese Windmill Palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, is a palm native to the Himalayas. Seeing some of the scrubby plants of this species in Northland it’s easy to be put off such a common palm.

Another Himalayan palm genus native to the region is Rhapis. Most familiar in New Zealand is the Lady Palm, Rhapis excelsa, which suits this garden style perfectly and will tolerate chills. It is however a palm for sheltered locations out of the full glare of the sun.


Next there are the bushes. Gone are the fiery colours of the tropics, replaced here with subtle pinks, lilacs and creams. There are three obvious choices for flowering bushes to complement such a garden, all from around this region; rhododendrons, roses and camellias. All offer a wide choice of different coloured flowers but, as we’ve noted, stick with more muted tones. For the roses err on the side of traditional.