Hot Plants for Cool Climates: Gardening with Tropical Plants in Temperate Zones

Overview


Passionate gardeners in cooler climates struggle year after year to overwinter their gorgeous tropical plants. Our new paperback edition is the answer to their problem — practical advice for achieving the tropical look in a temperate garden. The authors, who both live and garden on Long Island, New York, reveal the secrets to creating a lush, flamboyant landscape. Separate chapters cover such topics as principles of design and maintenance, proper plant selection, container gardening, and overwintering. Fantastic...
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Overview


Passionate gardeners in cooler climates struggle year after year to overwinter their gorgeous tropical plants. Our new paperback edition is the answer to their problem — practical advice for achieving the tropical look in a temperate garden. The authors, who both live and garden on Long Island, New York, reveal the secrets to creating a lush, flamboyant landscape. Separate chapters cover such topics as principles of design and maintenance, proper plant selection, container gardening, and overwintering. Fantastic color photography throughout will inspire gardeners in even the hardiest zones. With the help of this book, an impressive tropical garden is within any gardener's reach.
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Editorial Reviews

Rainy Side Gardeners
"Touching on everything from principles of design and maintenance to proper plant selection and overwintering, this book ensures that an impressive tropical garden is within everyone's reach."

—Rainy Side Gardeners, May 8, 2006

Buffalo Spree
"Read this book to figure out how to use tropical plants as a major design element in your garden, creating a lush, exotic enviornment."
—Elizabeth Licata, Buffalo Spree, April 2006
Perennial Notes
"Whether creating a jungle paradise with ... striking contrasts in size and color, planting a container for mixed varieties to drop into an existing landscape, punctuating an entrance, or framing a view, readers will find this an inspiring guide for building that lush look."

—Sandra J. Sandefur, Perennial Notes, Winter 2006

Northern Gardener
“. . . an engagingly written handbook – covering everything from design to plant selection to winter maintenance – that will help anyone who wants to create a convincing and pleasurable tropical look in their own northerly back-yard.”
— Felecia Parsons
From the Publisher

“. . . an engagingly written handbook – covering everything from design to plant selection to winter maintenance – that will help anyone who wants to create a convincing and pleasurable tropical look in their own northerly back-yard.”
Northern Gardener - Felecia Parsons
“. . . an engagingly written handbook – covering everything from design to plant selection to winter maintenance – that will help anyone who wants to create a convincing and pleasurable tropical look in their own northerly back-yard.”
Buffalo Spree
"Read this book to figure out how to use tropical plants as a major design element in your garden, creating a lush, exotic enviornment."
—Elizabeth Licata, Buffalo Spree, April 2006
Rainy Side Gardeners
"Touching on everything from principles of design and maintenance to proper plant selection and overwintering, this book ensures that an impressive tropical garden is within everyone's reach."

—Rainy Side Gardeners, May 8, 2006

Perennial Notes
"Whether creating a jungle paradise with ... striking contrasts in size and color, planting a container for mixed varieties to drop into an existing landscape, punctuating an entrance, or framing a view, readers will find this an inspiring guide for building that lush look."

—Sandra J. Sandefur, Perennial Notes, Winter 2006

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Garden fashion turns outrageous in this spirited call for cool-climate gardens to shed their English-borne respectability and don the dress of tropical wilds. With their typically hot and humid summers, gardens from Virginia to Minnesota and Oregon can mimic a Hawaiian paradise or a Costa Rican rain forest with layers of hanging greenery, contrasting leafy textures, gargantuan flowers and riotous color. Emboldened by Roth's (Four-Season Landscape) prose and Schrader's knowledge (he is the foremost grower of tropical plants in the New York metro area), readers can start with one of several simple container plantings or design an entire garden room around a temple of faux ruins. Gardeners will come to think of tropicals as big annuals that come into their own when the typical perennial garden is headed for ruin, learn how to begin with tropical-like cold-hardy plants and get the feel for garden design based on contrasting textures and a dominant vertical presence. Half of the book is devoted to an encyclopedia of 100 tropical plants and useful plant lists, categorized by color and pattern. This is certainly one of the liveliest and best-organized presentations on the tropical trend in gardening. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Roth, author of a long list of gardening books, and Schrader, a tropical plant grower in New York, team here to present the latest gardening craze. They explain why the tropical look has become popular, what the various tropical regions are and how their plants are distinctive, how to plan a garden with a tropical look, and how to care for and overwinter the plants. (This section is lavishly illustrated with photos of tropical gardens in temperate-zone locations.) The last half of the book is an "Encyclopedia of Plants"; for each plant, there is a color photo, and the scientific and popular names are given. The plant's habitat, size, and hardiness are provided. Following these basic elements, an article gives more detailed descriptions, suggested uses, and cultivation requirements. The first appendix consists of lists of plants classified by characteristics, e.g., "Tropical Plants with Colorful Leaves." Appendix 2 provides "Sources for Tropical and Tropical-Looking Hardy Plants." Recommended for comprehensive collections or where there is interest.--Carol Cubberley, Univ. of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780881927191
  • Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/1/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 228
  • Sales rank: 893,089
  • Product dimensions: 7.52 (w) x 9.72 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Meet the Author


Dennis Schrader is on of the foremost experts on tropical plants in the Northeast. He co-owns and operates Landcraft Environments, a wholesale greenhouse in Mattituck, New York.

Susan A. Roth is an award-winning writer and photographer. She cultivates her own eclectic garden in Stony Brook, New York.

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Read an Excerpt


Tropical plants move north

It's easy to create a dazzling display of tropical foliage and flowers even in seemingly inhospitable climates such as those found in Vermont, Pennsylvania, or Oregon, far from the Tropic of Capricorn. Summers in most parts of North America bring plenty of sun, heat, and humidity, along with thunderous rainstorms. These conditions fuel tropicals into high gear, so that even if the plants start off the summer small, they grow by leaps and bounds and turn into impressive specimens in a matter of a few weeks. Overwintered specimens are large to begin with and use this head start to great advantage, claiming an immediate presence in the garden as soon as they are set out in spring. By late summer and fall, tropicals are at their best.

The tropics are the most fecund and diversely vegetated region of the world, boasting, by some estimates, as many as three-quarters of the world's plant species. Only a relatively small number of these exotic plants are available to gardeners outside the tropics, and fewer still adapt to being thrust into a garden in Delaware or Minnesota. Many tropical plants need specific temperatures with hardly any fluctuation from day to day or wilt unless the humidity hovers around 100 percent. Others require specific nutrients or have an essential symbiotic relationship with another plant or fungus. Yet despite these restrictions, you can still choose from countless exotic plants to incorporate in your garden.

The ones that perform best in temperate gardens grow undaunted by the climate's normal fluctuations of temperature, humidity, and rainfall during the summer and fall. If they can also adapt to houseplant culture or to one of the many types of overwintering techniques, they become even more valuable as garden subjects because they'll only get more beautiful with size and age. Many common and popular houseplants, such as rubber trees, diffenbachia, spider plants, prayer plants, Chinese evergreen, and pothos, rescued from the dark corner of a living room, perform fabulously out-of-doors in warm weather and make authentic additions to a tropical-style garden.

You can grow tropical plants right in the ground or in containers outdoors in cold climates during the frost-free months of the year, creating entire tropical-style gardens from these tender beauties. For the most natural appearance, you might wish to plunge the pot of a large container plant right into a hole dug in the ground in a bed of tender or hardy plants. You might also site the container aboveground, but camouflage its base with dense plants.

Going native

Although some native-plant enthusiasts are purists and might disapprove of growing tropical plants in gardens where they are not endemic, this is really a matter of style and personal preference. Certainly when exotic plants — and in this case we define "exotic" not as a tropical plant per se but as

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Table of Contents


Contents
Introduction vi
Hot Plants for Cool Climates
One Tropicals Catch Fire 3
Two Tropical Style for Temperate Climates 21
Three Sizzling Container Gardens 53
Four Hardy Plants for a Tropical Look 69
Five Winter Survival Techniques 89
Encyclopedia of Plants 103
Appendix One Plant Lists 199
Appendix Two Sources for Tropical and
Tropical-Looking Hardy Plants 211
Acknowledgments 216
Index 218

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First Chapter

Chapter One

Tropicals Catch Fire

The canna-banana-plant palette has caught fire, sending gardeners everywhere into a frenzy of planting everything and anything big and bold, lush and leafy, extravagant and exuberant. It's a rebellion of sorts among gardeners who have been controlled too long by the fussy doctrines of English garden design and the dictates of rigid native-plant advocates. These guerrilla gardeners are revolting against excessive good taste and seriousness, striking back with vibrant foliage colors and unrestrained growth, all in the spirit of good fun.
Perhaps this trend toward the exotic is also a result of how well traveled we now are. Our pioneering sense of adventure knows no bounds; we cast off eagerly on Caribbean vacations, Hawaiian honeymoons, and Mexican holidays; trek through the cloud forests of Costa Rica and the rain forests
of the Amazon River Basin; and set off on safari in Kenya and Botswana. Gardeners returning from these adventures bring back an extensive new set of favorite plants and a very different sense of garden aesthetics.

The tropical look
The tropical-style gardens that are sprouting across the land are not really naturalistic gardens-they are not meant to mimic the jungles, rain forests, and desert islands of the tropics. Although they often possess a wild, jungly appearance, they capture only the untamed mood of the natural tropical landscape. They imitate in a more northerly climate the real gardens that bloom around the elegant homes and resorts that abound in equatorial regions. In these true tropical gardens-whether they're in Martinique, Bali, Thailand, Costa Rica, Hawaii, or even Florida-the showiest and most glorious hot-weather plants from around the world flourish together in a riot of color and texture. Since growing conditions vary little from one part of the tropics to another, plants native to the Philippines will happily adapt to a garden in the West Indies. And gardeners in the tropics are just like gardeners everywhere else-they lust after what is showiest, new, or different. The gardens of the tropics are collections of the best tropical plants from around the globe, not necessarily gardens made exclusively with local flora.
What gives these gardens such great appeal to gardeners in the Temperate Zone is their exotic look-a look unlike anything we have back home. Exploding with fireworks of color and growing into exuberant leaf, these tropical paradises capture our imaginations. The gardens' scale is grand, almost monumental, with leafy fronds of palms and bananas casting a shifting, shadowy shade. Trickling fountains, palm-thatched huts, and ancient ruins are not just whimsy but the real thing, the finishing touches that give the garden a sense of place, history, and culture. When re-created back home with tender tropical plants or with cold-hardy tropical-looking plants, this look can transport you to vacationland.

Tropical greenery
First-time travelers to the tropics are often surprised by the overwhelming greenery of the rain forest, and by its lack of bright color and seeming dearth of flowers. It's really not at all what they expected. Because the growing season in the tropics is often twelve months long, the landscape lacks seasonality. Plants don't need to make a mad dash to grow and reproduce in a few weeks or months. The beauty of the rain forest comes more from leaf textures and plant forms than from colorful flowers and fruits. Although many tropical plants are beautifully colorful, they are so widely dispersed through the surrounding greenery that their effect becomes diluted. When we reproduce a tropical-style garden in more northerly climes, however, we can concentrate the most colorful foliage and flowers the tropics have to offer in one setting, creating a vibrant effect not found in the natural tropical landscape.
The tropical rain forest is the most diverse ecosystem on Earth. It contains so many different kinds of plants that almost every plant you see on a hike through the forest is a unique species. Unlike the maple, beech, and pine forests of the northeastern United States, a tropical rain forest contains perhaps four hundred species of trees. This vast diversity translates into an astonishing variety of textures, forms, and shades of green, which you can use to good effect in a tropical-style garden. The wonderful contrast of all these elements is what we try to imitate.
Because so much rain falls in most regions of the tropics and subtropics, plants there have adapted to deal with an abundance of moisture. Their leaves, for instance, are cleverly designed to shed water: ei-ther they are very large and slickly glossy (think of a rubber tree), so water runs off them in sheets, or they are cut into lacy segments like a snowflake (think of a tree fern or palm), so torrential rain passes right through them. Most big, solid leaves are further equipped with long, pointy tips, called drip tips, to funnel water right off them. Desert dwellers, on the other hand, have needed to develop other means of coping with their harsh conditions in order to preserve whatever water they can scavenge. Often they either have thick, succulent, water-storing leaves or lack leaves altogether. Some have evolved a hairy coat on the leaves and stems to provide some shade from the burning sun.
Along with possessing a wonderful bold or ferny texture, most tropical leaves display fascinating outlines that make the tropical-style garden an intriguing place to explore. Besides being rounded or fernlike, tropical leaves can be deeply lobed, sharply serrated, thin and wiry, ferociously thorny, curly, or spiky. All these attention-getting forms add to the exotic look of a tropical-style garden, and combining various leaf shapes to contrast with each other will accentuate each leaf's special design.
Plants in temperate climates typically have small or moderate-size leaves in comparison with those of tropical plants, which can reach gargantuan proportions. Tree-fern and palm fronds, for example, while usually fine-textured, sometimes grow to 12 feet long or more, making an indisputable statement that says "tropical" in anyone's book. Banana leaves can measure 10 to 12 feet long. Where it grows wild, the giant taro (Alocasia macrorrhiza) produces shield-shaped leaves that can reach 4 feet wide and 6 feet long and are held aloft on 4-foot-long stems. The yard-long leaves of candle bush (Cassia alata) are beautifully cut into lacy segments, but their sheer size lends a dramatic presence.

Tropical forms and colors
The form of some tropical plants is so intrinsically exotic-looking that including these plants in your garden immediately transports you to a far-off land. Conjure up the image of a sinuous-trunked palm tree topped with a whorl of 12-foot-long fronds and you are automatically carried to a sunny, tropical island. Visualize the dense rosette of succulent, blue-green, thorn-tipped leaves of a century plant (Agave spp.) and you're in the desert. Imagine the lacy, translucent, green fronds of a giant tree fern spreading out overhead and you're in a misty cloud forest imbued with the earthy scent of moss. Picture the gigantic, heart-shaped leaves of elephant's ears (members of the genera Colocasia, Alocasia, and Xanthosoma), which can grow so tall and large that a child can stand under them, and you're hiking through a South American rain forest.
The tropics and subtropics offer an astounding array of colorful foliage plants, from the mottled red-and-green leaves of copperleaf (Acalypha wilkesiana) to the striped green-and-gold leaves of the variegated spiral ginger (Costus amazonica 'Variegata'). These and other notable tropical foliage plants such as Coleus exhibit colorful leaf patterns in the wild, but their garden forms are even more flamboyant. These garden varieties have been chosen for their intense color patterns or exaggerated size and texture, attributes that may exist in nature but that have been further enhanced by selection and breeding.
With such a bounty of distinctively colored and textured tropical foliage plants, your design possibilities are limitless. You can create combinations that are bodaciously outrageous if you wish, or use a bit of restraint and come up with more sedate, but still vibrant, color schemes. The success of any design depends not just on using leaf color wisely but on contrasting leaf size and form. Play off the ferny against the solid and bold, the fine-textured against the coarse-textured. Then add the element of color and you've got a tropical-looking garden. (These topics are covered in more depth in the next chapter.)

Tropical flowers and fruits
A flower's main job in life is to attract pollinators to fertilize it, in order to ensure seed set and thus reproduce the plant. This vital task is an especially difficult one in the tropics, where competition between plant species is fierce and where individual plants of the same species may be located a quarter of a mile apart. To ensure survival, the flowers of tropical plants have evolved into very specialized-and often gorgeous-structures meant to attract the creatures that pollinate them. For unlike many Temperate Zone plants that spread their pollen helter-skelter on the wind, most tropical plants rely on birds, insects, and mammals for pollination.
Many of the showiest flowers in the tropics are large tubular red, orange, or pink affairs that depend on hummingbirds for pollination. With their craving for nectar and excellent vision, hummingbirds are significant pollinators of tropical plants. Red and orange blossoms attract them the way a lightning rod attracts lightning. Plants that use hummingbirds exclusively for pollination produce tubular scarlet to pink flowers with a rich store of sugary nectar in the depths of their throats, where only this long-tongued bird can reach. Often perched at the tips of lengthy stems, these blossoms stand away from any tangle of leaves, to allow the birds to fly from flower to flower and hover without hindrance. The vibrantly colored blossoms are typically scentless, because they need no additional help in attracting
the birds.
Large, nectar-rich, night-blooming white flowers rely on hawk moths, not hummingbirds, for pollination. These night-flying insects hover, sprint, and sip nectar in hummingbird manner, but they visit different-type flowers. Because these moths fly at night, the flowers they find attractive must be easy to locate in the dark and so are invariably a luminescent white and have a heady fragrance. The moths' 6-inch-long tongues can probe deeply into tubular flowers to reach the nectar, but these insects also feed on shallower blossoms.
And then there are flowers that are pollinated by bats, which abound in the tropics. Despite popular belief, not all bats are blind. Flower- and fruit-feeding bats enjoy excellent vision, unlike insectivorous bats, which navigate by a kind of radar called echolocation. The nectar-laden flowers they visit must be easy to see at night and so are commonly white or pastel and quite large, with a dense puff of anthers that rubs pollen onto the bats' snouts as they probe the flowers in search of their sugary riches. The bats' specially developed sense of smell helps them find their way to the flowers that are designed for them to pollinate-bat-pollinated flowers possess a musty odor reminiscent of fermented fruit, which is not exactly pleasant.
Bees and butterflies are also important flower pollinators in the tropics, as are many other kinds of insects. As with insect-pollinated plants in temperate regions, tropical versions attract their pollinators with color and fragrance as well as by devious mimicry. Some flowers, notably orchids, resemble colorful female insects and insidiously draw their male counterparts to enjoy their attractions, all the while taking advantage of them as inadvertent pollinators.
Some plants, particularly those in the aroid family (Araceae), employ carrion beetles as pollinators, a specialty that endows them with the repugnant aroma of rotten meat. Fortunately for tropical-plant lovers, these often bizarre-looking flowers usually don't stink for long, nor does the odor carry for much of a distance, but you are well advised not to stick a curious nose into such a flower.
Once pollinated, most of these fabulous flowers ripen into juicy, edible fruits, which serve to attract hungry monkeys, parrots, and other creatures, which then carry off the seeds and disperse them far away from the parent plant. Because they need to be found and eaten, the fruits often turn bright red when ripe, a color that is easy to spot against the forest's prevailing greenery. Not only do they taste delicious, they look beautiful, too.
With all these wonderful flowers and fruits, it's surprising that the tropical rain forest remains so predominantly green. This is partly because in a frostless environment the growing season is year-round and there is no need to make a great show of flowering and fruiting before unfavorable weather sets in. The insects and birds that pollinate the flowers or spread their seeds are in attendance throughout the year, so flowering trees, shrubs, and vines usually bloom-with notable exceptions, such as the spring-blooming royal poinciana tree (Delonix regia) and the golden bell tree (Tabebuia caraiba)-sporadically, a few blossoms at a time, throughout the entire year, rarely making a floral splash. Fruits also ripen a few at a time all through the year, thus ensuring a plentiful food supply for the birds and animals that the plants rely on to spread their seeds. However, some flowering plants do put on exquisite shows of blossoms, but they do so high up in the forest canopy, where visitors to the forest cannot see them from the ground.
When it comes to using flowering tropicals in a garden, you will of course seek those that flower most freely, such as flowering maple (Abutilon spp.), mandevilla vine (Mandevilla x amoena), bottlebrush ginger (Hedychium coccineum), or firecracker plant (Cuphea ignea), or those, such as flamingo flower (Anthurium spp.) or lobster claw (Heliconia rostrata), whose individual flowers are so dramatic that quality makes up for any deficiency in quantity. Night bloomers, such as thorn apple (Datura inoxia), belong close to the house-along a moonlit path, next to a lighted patio, or under a window-where the delights they offer won't be missed.
No tropical-style garden is complete without fragrant plants to add to the romance. The heady fragrance of the night-blooming jessamine (Cestrum nocturnum) is so strong that it can permeate an entire backyard. The sweet perfume of ginger (family Zingiberaceae), gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides), and angel's trumpet (Brugmansia spp.) can transport you to the tropics as the scent lingers in the sultry summer air. Locate fragrant plants where you'll be sure to enjoy them, whether in a container set on a patio, deck, or terrace or planted next to a hammock or an outdoor dining area. You can also bring containerized plants indoors to act as fragrant living bouquets.

Tropical vines and epiphytes
Luxuriant vines twisting their way into the treetops and sending down a drapery of leafy branches define the dense, uncontrolled growth that typifies much of the tropics. Probably as much as 90 percent of all the vine species in the world grow in the tropics, where their predatory growth is fueled by abundant warmth, sun, and moisture. With their roots firmly in the soil, vines drink up plenty of moisture and nutrients, but they keep their heads in the sky, where they bask in the sun and spread out in a smothering blanket across the plants they climb. Because they cannot support themselves, vines need something to grow on and a climbing strategy.
Two types of vines abound in the tropics. The woody, long-lived, high-climbing lianas, such as the Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa), germinate in the debris on the dark forest floor and immediately begin to grow upward, seeking light. Their stems wrap and twine around the tallest tree they can find, rapidly twisting themselves high into the canopy and grasping the tree trunks they climb in a fierce stranglehold. Their woody bases can grow to a massive size, as big around as a man's leg. As a liana climbs upward, it may weave from one tree to another and tangle with other vines. But once it has achieved the top of the forest canopy, its leafy branches sprawl out every which way to soak up the sun and can eventually grow to 1,000 feet long. This great, weighty vine can ultimately topple a tree or impair its health by blocking life-sustaining sunlight.
Other less mammoth vines, such as morning glories (Ipomoea spp.) and passionflowers (Passiflora spp.), scramble their way over low shrubs and small trees at the edges of a forest, along a riverbank, or in a sun-drenched clearing opened up by a tree fall. They grow rapidly in the sun and stay much lower, climbing by slender twining stems or clinging tendrils that grasp onto their host's narrow twigs and branches. These opportunistic vines live shorter lives than the massive lianas, because their sunny site inevitably
closes in upon them.
Tropical trees serve as the home base for many other types of plants besides vines. In the moisture-laden equatorial regions, mosses and lichens encrust tree bark, wallpapering it in intricate patterns. Epiphytic ferns, bromeliads, cacti, and orchids cling to tree branches, sprouting from every nook and cranny like hats tossed onto a hat rack. None of these plants are actually parasitic, only opportunistic. These smaller plants use the host plant for support to put them in reach of sunlight and rainfall.
An epiphyte sacrifices a lot in trade for a boost skyward. Its roots, which are not anchored to the ground but are lodged in debris that collects in the crotch of a tree branch or in a crack in a rough-textured bark, cannot do much by way of absorbing water or nutrients. So epiphytes live constantly on the verge of dehydration or starvation. The roots absorb what moisture and nutrients they can from the decaying litter they are rooted in, or if they are attached directly to a branch and suspended in midair, they rely on rain and mist to bring them moisture and nutrients.
Some epiphytes have adapted to their situation by other novel means. Many bromeliads catch water and litter in tanks formed by the cuplike arrangement of their leaves. The litter and insects in the water decay into a nutrient-rich broth that feeds the plant. These vessels not only benefit the
bromeliad but also provide water for thirsty rain-forest dwellers and even are home to insects, frogs, and other amphibians. Epiphytic cacti and orchids store water in their pseudobulbs to call upon during dry periods.
The abundant presence of vines and epiphytes further adds to the tropical forest's chaotic lushness, a lushness reflected in layers of tangled vegetation. This layering is one aspect of designing a tropical-style garden that should not be overlooked, because it is so important in creating a tropical ambiance. To do it right, you must add several vines to scale up a tree trunk or twine around a post or trellis, so that their dripping branches create a bit of a jumble. You can go so far as to attach actual epiphytic plants, such as air plants (Tillandsia spp.) and orchids to the trees in your garden, or just suspend hanging baskets of ferns and vines to create the layered look.

Tropical plants move north
It's easy to create a dazzling display of tropical foliage and flowers even in seemingly inhospitable climates such as those found in Vermont, Pennsylvania, or Oregon, far from the Tropic of Capricorn. Summers in most parts of North America bring plenty of sun, heat, and humidity, along with thunderous rainstorms. These conditions fuel tropicals into high gear, so that even if the plants start off the summer small, they grow by leaps and bounds and turn into impressive specimens in a matter of a few weeks. Overwintered specimens are large to begin with and use this head start to great advantage, claiming an immediate presence in the garden as soon as they are set out in spring. By late summer and fall, tropicals are at their best.
The tropics are the most fecund and diversely vegetated region of the world, boasting, by some estimates, as many as three-quarters of the world's plant species. Only a relatively small number of these exotic plants are available to gardeners outside the tropics, and fewer still adapt to being thrust into a garden in Delaware or Minnesota. Many tropical plants need specific temperatures with hardly any fluctuation from day to day or wilt unless the humidity hovers around 100 percent. Others require specific nutrients or have an essential symbiotic relationship with another plant or fungus. Yet despite these restrictions, you can still choose from countless exotic plants to incorporate in your garden.
The ones that perform best in temperate gardens grow undaunted by the climate's normal fluctuations of temperature, humidity, and rainfall during the summer and fall. If they can also adapt to houseplant culture or to one of the many types of overwintering techniques (see chapter 5), they become even more valuable as garden subjects because they'll only get more beautiful with size and age. Many common and popular houseplants, such as rubber trees, diffenbachia, spider plants, prayer plants, Chinese evergreen, and pothos, rescued from the dark corner of a living room, perform fabulously out-of-doors in warm weather and make authentic additions to a tropical-style garden.
You can grow tropical plants right in the ground or in containers outdoors in cold climates during the frost-free months of the year, creating entire tropical-style gardens from these tender beauties. For the most natural appearance, you might wish to plunge the pot of a large container plant right into a hole dug in the ground in a bed of tender or hardy plants. You might also site the container aboveground, but camouflage its base
with dense plants.

Going native
Although some native-plant enthusiasts are purists and might disapprove of growing tropical plants in gardens where they are not endemic, this is really a matter of style and personal preference. Certainly when exotic plants-and in this case we define "exotic" not as a tropical plant per se but as any plant not native to a given region-are planted in a garden, they can escape its confines. Some escapees run rampant in the natural landscape, posing a threat to native vegetation that's like a disease let loose on a susceptible population. Countless incidences of imported plants turning into terrible pests fill gardening folklore. Kudzu-that infamous vining weed from Japan-is the most notable example. It's literally eating the South, smothering trees and houses in its advancing path.
You need feel no guilt or worry whatsoever in planting tropical plants outdoors in climates colder than the limits of their hardiness. Since they would perish if they spent a winter outdoors in such a climate, they pose no danger of escape. Even if a tropical sets seed, the seed will not germinate. However, some exotic tropicals and subtropicals should not be planted outside in areas where they are cold-hardy-in zones 9-10 and 8-10, respectively-because they do present a threat. This is especially true of certain exotic grasses that disperse their windblown seeds far and wide and can thus become terribly invasive. Plants that pose such a problem are indicated in the encyclopedia section of this book.

Tropicals defy the seasons
In July and August in temperate regions, when temperatures and humidity are at their most insufferable, many traditional garden plants start to wilt and sulk, but tropical and subtropical plants shout for joy. It's their kind of weather. A garden planted densely with tropicals and subtropicals gets better and better as the growing season progresses, and it does not falter in mid- or late summer, or even in fall until it's too cold to care anyway.
Because they are genetically coded to keep on growing all year and don't plan for frost, when grown in a temperate climate many tropicals obliviously continue growing and blooming in fall. Putting on a fantastic show of foliage, flowers, and form at a time of year when few northern plants are looking all that good, tropicals seem like miraculous season extenders. In autumn, our northerly perennial gardens more often than not look tired and worn; not much is in bloom, and leaves begin to shrivel and drop off, preparing for dormancy. But when tropicals, subtropicals, tender perennials, and cool-season annuals occupy a cool-climate garden, the show only gets better as summer advances into fall.
Although some tropicals make good season extenders, subtropicals usually do a better job of it, because they are designed for cooler temperatures and a relatively long growing season. By late summer they have grown to their full size and are ready to bloom and put on a floral show. Some variegated or fancy-leaved tropicals have been strutting their stuff all summer and then take curtain calls by beginning to bloom late in the season. Leaf colors of many foliage plants intensify with the advent of cool, crisp nights, so they become only more striking. Princess flower (Tibouchina urvilleana) even develops rust-orange autumnal foliage hues. (For a listing of tender plants to extend the fall season, see page 200.)
Many of these plants, especially the ones that you want to die back and then store as dormant plants over the winter, can and should be left out until frost. Still others, even though they may not be destined to be overwintered, have an attractive presence in the autumn border. Use lion's ear (Leonotis leonurus), castor bean (Ricinus communis), and shower bush (Senna spp.) for their bold architectural appearances, which are especially welcome in fall.
You can spruce up containers by removing faded annuals or plants that don't perform well in cool temperatures and leave in the fall performers. Use New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax), gingers (family Zingiberaceae) and honey bush (Melianthus major), and then add a few ornamental cabbages or kales, fall-flowering perennials such as asters (Aster spp.), and cool-season annuals such as pansies (Viola ¥ wittrockiana), blue daisy (Felicia amelloides), and pot marigold (Calendula officinalis). Your aim is to make a design statement, so why limit yourself by using only traditional fall plants such as chrysanthemums?
A few tropicals are so cold-sensitive that they may lose their leaves when the nights start getting into the 40s-these plants must be protected from cold. But most tropicals take night temperatures even into the high 30s in stride as long as days are warmer, into the high 40s or 50s. They don't begin to falter until a light frost turns their leaves brown.
Most plants that thrive in a subtropical climate carry on even through light frost. Gingers (family Zingiberaceae), flowering maple (Abutilon spp.), fuchsia (Fuchsia ¥ hybrida), fancy-leaf geranium (Pelargonium ¥ zonale), prin-cess flower (Tibouchina urvilleana), and firecracker plant (Cuphea ignea) keep pumping out their blossoms even when the surrounding landscape blazes with fall color. A butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium) out-blooms a garden mum any day. Not until a hard freeze blackens the tops do these plants stop performing. Tender ornamental grasses hold onto their wispy good looks and fluffy seed heads long after they've been hit with frost and can play an important part in the fall garden-and in the winter garden if you're
willing to treat them as annuals.
When a light frost or the first hard freeze makes its mark on a tropical, it's time to dig it up and store the roots in a state of dormancy until spring. You can also protect some tropical or subtropical plants-and even borderline hardy plants for that matter-from winter by burying them under mulch or wrapping them in insulating material. This way you can often carry them over in the ground from season to season in areas one or two zones colder than they would normally survive. (See chapter 5 for details on how to get tropicals through the winter in a northern climate.)
Even if you aren't creating a tropical-style garden, you'll find that using tropical plants here and there in a traditional landscape extends the gardening season well beyond what you're used to. These equatorial wonders find a
place in almost any garden setting, bringing color and volume to the late-season garden.

Creating a tropical style
Tropical ambiance comes not just from the plants you use and how you combine them but also from the accouterments you bring to the garden. The ornaments-containers, fountains, lanterns, fences, furniture, and statuary-that find a home in the gar-den put the final flourish to its tropical spell. Even a single large Asian urn used as a focal point adds a foreign flavor. Statuary, artifacts and ruins from earlier cultures, huts and other garden buildings all bring a sense of place to the garden that makes it distinctly individual.
You can punctuate your tropical-style garden with tasteful ornaments or go at it with a bit of humor. Have some fun and approach this aspect of your garden with tongue in cheek. Try mounting tiki torches along the length of a path through the garden, for instance, or erect a faux temple ruin among the vegetation. You might suspend Yucatán hammocks from tree to tree or hang a parrot cage, perhaps with a cascading plant inside, among the tree branches.
Water plays a key role in a tropical-looking garden, and if possible you should include a water feature-either large or small-somewhere in the garden. You'll enjoy watching the ripples on its surface and listening to the music of its trickling flow. The water feature can be as simple as a water-filled urn fitted with a recirculating pump or as elaborate as a naturalistic boulder-strewn stream-whatever fits your budget and your imagination.
Formal pools and fountains surrounded by tiled courtyards defined Byzantine Middle-Eastern gardens. Reflecting pools were also important features in the gardens built by the colonial powers in Africa and South America. Rocky naturalistic pools and waterfalls adorn gardens in the South Seas and Thailand.
Not all tropical-style gardens look jungly. Mediterranean gardens are usually more controlled, with a lushness that comes from massing containerized plants within a walled courtyard, although vines such as bougainvillea spilling over the walls can add a splendid garnish. These plants may be water-guzzling tropicals nurtured with a watering can or arid types that adapt to the seasonally dry climate. Tropical plants growing in a courtyard in a temperate climate can bask in the warm microclimate the enclosure provides, which encourages their rapid growth and lengthens the time you can grow and enjoy them outdoors.

Tropical impersonators
Gardeners anywhere in the world, in almost any climate, can also imitate the tropical-style garden by relying not on real tropical plants but on a collection of cold-hardy plants. Many cold-hardy plants, by way of their dramatic size and form, fascinating foliage, and extravagant flowers, possess a tropical air about them. Combine these into a dense planting that radiates an overgrown exuberance and you've achieved the tropical look without having to replant year after year. You can also mix and match the cold-hardy with the tropical, much as you would mix perennials and annuals in a traditional flower bed. (See chapter 4 for details on designing the tropical look with cold-hardy plants.)
When choosing hardy plants for a tropical-style garden, study the foliage first and select those that look as if they belong in a giant, moist terrarium. Choose perennials with big glossy leaves a foot or more across and plant them in clumps to create a tropical look. Like the true tropicals, many large-scale perennials have brightly variegated foliage and make great exotic-looking additions. To give it authentic-looking structure, you can also work into your design trees and shrubs that feature the huge smooth leaves or large lace-cut leaves so common in the tropics. Contrast this big and bold framework with ferny and grassy textures to further enhance the tropical effect.
The big, bodacious look is all the same whether the plants are tender or hardy. By using these cold-hardy impersonators in tropical-looking combinations, you save yourself planting effort each year and also avoid the need to cram your house full of overwintering tropicals for several months.


By adding distinctive tropical plants to your garden design, you expand your plant palette enormously over the more common garden choices. Tropicals work in almost any garden or garden area. They can create a cool green sanctuary or an opulent paradise. The tropical style can characterize just a small oasis in your garden or encompass your entire landscape-fanatics have been known to get carried away by the fun of it all, completely making over their garden. You might want to start off small, with perhaps as little as a pair of containers flanking the front door, and then go more tropical. Hobbyists go to great lengths to defy their garden's climate in attempting to overwinter tropical plants, such as palms, in the ground in regions where they aren't normally hardy. Whatever your gardening personality, the idea is to enjoy your tropical adventure. You're limited only by your imagination and the number of frost-free days in your garden.

Copyright (c) 2000 by Susan A. Roth & Company and Dennis Schrader. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
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