The last couple of years, there has been a definite trend towards using tropical plants. People are including them in their gardens, in containers and as stand alone specimens in a nice pot on a deck or patio. And why not? Tropicals enjoy the heat of summer and usually require less work than annuals, as well as putting on an amazing show with vibrant colours and different forms and textures. Then you get the added bonus of being able to keep it as a houseplant over the winter if you like – not always an easy task with annuals.
Mandevillas and Dipladenias have to be first on any list of must have tropicals. At one time, they were mostly available in a smaller six inch pot, but their popularity has meant that much larger sizes are available for that instant wow effect. When grown on a small obelisk or hoops, they are gaining ground as the centrepiece of a container over the more common Dracaena spike. They have bright red, pink or clear white blooms all summer that the hummingbirds love, and are very forgiving when you occasionally forget to water your container.
Kimberly ferns attract a lot of attention. It’s a fast growing fern that loves to be in full sun. They’re absolutely gorgeous around a pool and everyone will wonder how you got a fern to grow in such a sunny spot. Planted in a garden, they will more than double in size by the end of the season. Better yet, plant it in a nice pot about twice the size of the plant. It can then come into the house at the end of the season into a bright window without worrying about it dropping fronds all over the place like a boston fern. Last year I took a Kimberly fern that had started as a six inch pot and become massive by the end of the season, divided it up into three sections and planted each into a fourteen inch pot. The fourteen inch pots are now full and back outside, making my deck look like a tropical paradise.
Oleander is another great plant outside that comes into the house with ease. Very drought tolerant, I’ve seen them used in boulevard plantings in Florida. The long greyish leaves really set off the softer pastel flowers and provide a nice contrast for the ones with brightly coloured flowers. Just be careful with them around young children and pets as they are quite poisonous. Most animals know better than to snack on it. My yellow lab, Latte, has never given it a second glance, let alone a sniff. She seems to prefer my peppers. There is a benefit to the poisonous nature of the plant though. It means that deer and rabbits are going to avoid them in your garden. I had a mental image, just now, of deer and bunnies, arm in arm, singing “always look on the bright side of life”.
Crotons have big brightly coloured leaves with yellow, orange, red and green. Citrus trees and Jasmine have amazingly fragrant flowers. Hibiscus has to be the definitive tropical flower for a deck or poolside. At lease I assume so, since it seems to be printed, in one fashion or another, on most of my bathing suits, summery short sleeved shirts and cheap souvenir Tshirts that tell everyone I’ve been Mexico, Cayman Islands, El Salvador, Costa Rica, etc.
If you haven’t already done so, bring your houseplants outside for the summer. It’s where they want to be. Just remember to do so gradually so they aren’t shocked; one week in bright shade, followed by one week in morning sun – then they’ll be good to bake next to you as you lay on a lounger, under an umbrella, sipping something fruity (or a beer – but nobody really sips a beer), complaining that it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity and wouldn’t it be nice if it cooled down just a little. Don’t grumble, give a whistle.