In the Garden:
Lower South
January, 2004
Regional Report

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'Tropicanna' canna is a great perennial choice for adding gaudy tropical color to your landscape.

Break the Rules With Gaudy Tropical Combinations

I must admit that although I find gardening design rules to be useful at times, more often I delight in breaking them! Many would-be gardeners bog down over trying to choose and combine the right plants in order to have a beautiful landscape. The color wheel is one such example. While there are pleasing combinations that work well together, especially in formal plantings, there is also something to be said for having fun and going for plants that appeal to you.

We garden for fun and exercise. If you try something that doesn't look right, then take heart as the next season brings another opportunity. I find quite often that a plant that's supposed to go in a particular spot just doesn't like it there and insists on being planted somewhere else in the landscape.

I love tropical (and tropical-looking) plants. Nature seems ignorant of the "proper" combination of colors when it comes to tropical plants. Tropicals come in a delightful mix of gaudy colors. They even bring in a variety of textures and some bold, huge foliage options. With tropicals I think we can forget the color wheel and just have fun!

Some of my favorites are the tropical-looking perennials that are hardy enough to return each season. With a foundation of these plants, I can better afford the few true tropical additions that must be replaced each spring or dug, potted, and pampered over the winter indoors.

Favorite Tropicals
Colocasia and Alocasia – Their large, bold foliage demands attention. Some varieties offer dark foliage or green leaves with white splashes.

Banana – Dwarf types like Dwarf Cavendish are especially useful. Provide them a protected location to prevent wind from shredding the large, tender leaves.

Persian Shield – A great choice for shady areas beneath other plants. The foliage is a striking combination of purple, silver, and green.

Perennial Hibiscus - The tropical version is stunning but not cold hardy. Perennial types offer much larger blooms in shades of red, pink, and white.

Caesalpinia – This one has lots of common names and several species. Caesalpinia pulcherrima is the most colorful and forms a nice, full, landscape shrub.

Canna – My personal favorites are the multicolored 'Tropicanna' (Phasion) and striped types like Pretoria (Bengal Tiger).

Copper Plant – A bold annual with foliage that really catches the eye.

Coleus – With many types of this annual to choose from, there is something for everyone.

Caladiums – Another annual that really knows how to brighten up a shady area.

Brugmansia – Long, trumpet blooms in late summer to fall are worth the wait.

Hedychium – Butterfly types of ginger that bloom in late summer to fall. Some have a fragrance that exceeds gardenia as a traffic stopper.

Ferns – These fill in nicely in shady spots, and their lacy foliage provides a nice contrast to the broad-leaved tropicals. I am especially fond of Japanese Painted fern with its silver, purple, and green fronds, and cinnamon fern with its tall spikes of cinnamon color that rise above the foliage.

So throw away the color wheel this year and have fun creating a gaudy tropical spot in your landscape.


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