My wife was able to join me at a conference I attended in Galveston last month. While I was in meetings, seminars and luncheons, she was on the beach and visiting a local garden. Everywhere we went, she asked, “Why can’t we grow this around our home?”
So why can’t we have a tropical oasis in our backyard? Actually we can. And we can do it with some well-adapted plants.
Now, truly, many of the tropical plants you’ll find in coastal locations won’t make it through our winters. One horticulturalist told me jokingly, “You can grow everything you see here if you have a large heated greenhouse over your landscape all through the winter.”
While we cannot have all the plants that grow on the coast, there were several you could plant here to create a place with vibrant color, large glossy leaves and, ultimately, a tropical feel.
Let’s start with a humble and common plant that is already well-adapted: Canna lilies. Yep, you’ll find them almost everywhere, and when the leaf-rolling insects are cared for, they look outstanding and work well here. Look for blooms that can be red, orange or yellow. Leaf colors can wander into bronze, variegated and maroon, in addition to the still-impressive green leaves. Start with Cannas as a back wall for a small area, and you’ll be rewarded with a low-maintenance plant.
A little more difficult, but certainly a tropical favorite is the Bird of Paradise. Grown for its incredible flowers, they grow best in pots or as an accent plant. The plant gets its name from the flower’s resemblance to tropical birds.
Banana plants do well, as long as you don’t expect to get any bananas. I have only seen a banana fruit on a local banana plant once in all my years here. Still, the large leaves showcase a classic tropical feel. Plant them in a sunny location.
Next, look at Brugmansia, or angel’s trumpets. These can require extra water and fertilizer, but the blooms are ridiculous — large yellow blooms up to 10 inches long. Well cared for, they can reach more than 12 feet tall in one season. Mulch deeply over the winter, and they should make it through the cold season.
Caladiums are grown from tubers each spring. While not a repeating bloom, these hardy, shade-loving plants are found in several gardens around here. The abundance of color in the leaves is enormous. During the fall you can dig them up and store in a cool, dry place until next spring.
Coleus are related to caladiums but come in a much larger selection.
Turmeric and its relative ginger are some other options for large leaves and wonderful blooms. According to one source they require heat, humidity and rain. Well, just add water when we get dry, and we won’t have to worry about the rest.
Hibiscus can be super easy, if you plant the hardy hibiscus. We have our very own hardy variety in East Texas and several will go dormant during the winter only to return and give a huge show during the summer. Look for Superstar varieties such as Flare, Lord Baltimore and Moy Grande.
Oleander shrubs are a staple, it seems, along the coast, and we can grow them here, too. If you’ve heard they are poisonous, they are. But so is your peach tree and the tomato plant. So, just like you wouldn’t eat leaves from those plants, don’t eat oleander. Just enjoy its beauty.
There’s also the Sago Palm, which isn’t really a palm at all, and I know there will be others you may think of. But you get the idea: We can have our own tropical paradise — even if is just on our back porch.