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Tropical Plants for the Landscape

In some respects, gardening is like fashion with older styles returning to gain popularity in later eras.

The tropical look was a popular garden style during the Victoria era. Later, during the 1950ís it was resurrected for another round. Finally, this arose in the 1990ís to become more popular than ever.

Normally, Iím not one for fads. But, this hot and bold style really has something to offer for landscapes in many areas of the country.

Many of the plants used in the tropical style are tropical or sub-tropical perennials. These are well adapted to the typical heat and humidity that is found in warmer areas of the country.

In comparison, flowering tropicals have another advantage over temperate perennials. They tend to be much more floriferous, meaning they will be able to produce many more blossoms over the growing season than a typical temperate species.

Of great importance to gardeners is the fact that the tropicals allow us to create lush, dramatic summer landscapes that may have been difficult with temperate species. Thanks to recent plant introductions, we have many bold tropicals with foliage sporting stunning variegation and beautiful patterns. Examples include the Black Widow elephant ear. Even the New Zealand flax or Phormium, a foliage plant often used in containers, is now sold in dramatic tones.

Now, even the flowering tropicals are often available with sophisticated colors never seen in these plants before. The black cannas were one of the earliest to make their appearance. Thanks to new, inexpensive propagation methods, these cannas are now available at mass market retailers like K-mart and the like.

Of the other flowering tropicals, I especially recommend the variegated bougainvilleas, as their dramatic foliage means the plant is so lovely even when it isnít in bloom. Remember these plants bloom on new growth only. After it finishes flowering, snip off a couple inches from the stem to encourage development of the new flower buds.

Concerning the other flowering tropicals, the most beautiful seem to be the trumpet flowers (Brugmansia and Datura), flowering gingers, and the bananas. Thanks to recent introductions, ornamental bananas can be grown in colder regions of the U.S. Look for these gorgeous, versatile plants in garden centers, catalogs, and online. I would recommend using them as specimens or accent plants. If you are designing a new flower bed or border, give these the place of honor. Then, choose annuals or perennials to show off their exotic nature. Because a banana doesnít create much shade even when mature, choose sun-loving companion plants to plant around the trunk.

When choosing plants for the tropical look, we need not discard our all-time favorites. For example, hibiscus, with their gigantic blooms, deserves a place for it has a tropical appearance. The same is true for the flowering maple (Abutilon), and the castor beanógrown both for the bold, blackish-green foliage and the unusual flowers and pods. For an exotic touch around a pond or water garden, I would recommend planting

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