This book explains the structure of tropical (and subtropical) gardens. The key elements are "a lush density of plants, which means areas of deep shade; the use of natural materials; an emphasis on foliage rather than flower, on shape rather than colour; the use of brilliant and intense colours rather than subdued tones, where colour does occur; and, above all, drama in the plants themselves."
The book is divided into two main sections "Plant Architecture" (the larger plants) and "Soft Furnishings" (the smaller plants.) It is extremely thorough --- from the stately palm ("The plant that epitomizes the exotic garden is surely the palm. Few other trees are so instantly recognizable --- their silhouette is unmistakable.") through the dainty orchid and everything in between.
While the book doesn't try to be a "dictionary" of tropical plants, there are many excellent photographs by Gil Hanly. There is at least one photograph per page. The plants in the photographs are well identified, but the photos are primarily for showing good (and varied) tropical garden design. The gardens are not just the lush jungle look. There is also a good bit of lawn and patio, which gives a garden a nice yin/yang mix.
In the text, specific plants and cultivars are recommended. The book is a vast treasure house of information. I can tell how useful a book is by how many stick-on plastic flags I apply as I am reading. Ten flags in this book --- it's a keeper. If you do tropical (or subtropical) gardening, I recommend that you own this book.
Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, 1992, (800) 327-5680, www.timberpress.com, 0-88192-359-1, 176 pages, color photographs, paperback, $24.95.