Gardening For Vacation Vibes
This article was written by Catriona Tudor Erler and was featured in our October issue of Home By Design magazine. To visit the original Home By Design article, click here.
Tired of the tried-and-true, traditional garden designs? Take a fresh approach by transforming your garden into a tropical oasis. The look doesn’t have to be limited to climes like Hawaii, Florida, and coastal Southern California. By following the tips below, you can create your own tropical paradise wherever you live.
Creating the Tropical Look.
Lush foliage is key to the tropical look. Layer lots of plants, mixing trees, shrubs, flowers, and ground covers. Different textures add visual interest as do varied shades of green. Large-leafed plants such as hardy bananas, elephant ears, and Japanese aralia are particularly effective. Your mantra should be density.
Choose big, bold, hot-colored flowers in brilliant reds, hot pinks, clear yellows, and dynamic oranges. The more exotic the flower, the better. Look beyond the everyday petunias, marigolds, and pansies to flowers such as canna lilies, ginger, and passion flowers. Also include plants with vibrantly hued leaves such as Cannas (‘Yellow King Humbert’, ‘Durban’, and ‘Pretoria’ all have gorgeous, multicolored pinstriped leaves), caladium, and croton.
The third important feature is water. You can opt for a simple wall or freestanding fountain or go big with a pond that can host tropicals such as papyrus, elephant ears, or water cannas.
If you have a large shade tree, make that part of your garden. Place a bench or table and chairs under the tree canopy to enjoy the shady outlook into the garden. A lath-covered arbor or patio offer good, shady options too.
Finish the look by adding a few personal decorative touches. An interesting sculpture or locally quarried statement rock are possibilities. String lights, tiki torches, or a fire pit provide a festive feeling for warm, summer-night parties. A hammock or tree swing provide island-style seating, while weather-resistant wicker gives a coastal vibe. Outdoor cushions in exotic prints finish the look of tropical splendor in your private garden space.
Overwintering a Tropical Garden.
There are several strategies to keep tropical and subtropical plants alive during the winter. In USDA climate zones as cold as 6, semi hardy plants can remain in situ in the garden if you apply a thick layer of mulch around the roots and wrap the plant to shield it from the cold. Others, such as citrus jasmine, tropical hibiscus, and other woody plants benefit from overwintering indoors. Plants with rhizomes, fleshy tubers, corms, or crowns will survive overwintering indoors as bareroot plants. Lastly, fleshy, soft-stemmed tender plants root easily and take up less space for overwintering indoors.
Mulching and Wrapping.
Before the cold weather sets in, insulate the roots with a three- to five-inch layer of mulch. The colder your climate, the thicker your mulch should be. Wrap the plant in a frost blanket, which is a cover made of lightweight, polypropylene fabric, or other material (traditionally old bedsheets, blankets, or burlap). Among the good candidates for this approach are hardy bananas.
Sun-loving tropical plants will require a sunny room where the daytime temperatures stay between 60 and 70 degrees F and nighttime temperatures don’t drop below 40 degrees F. Small plants will happily spend the winter months under a grow light providing twelve hours of light a day. Watering frequency will depend on the plant; be aware that overwatering is the primary cause of houseplant death.
Herbaceous, soft-stemmed plants such as coleus, begonias, and geraniums, are good candidates for rooting cuttings. Choose young, succulent stems, cut them four- to six-inches long, remove the lower leaves, and keep them in water on a windowsill. Once a good set of roots has developed, plant the cuttings in pots. Keep them in a sunny location or under grow lights until all danger of frost has passed. Acclimate them to the outdoors by putting them outside for a few hours, extending the time each day for about a week.
Lifting and Storing.
Tropical plants that grow from bulbs or tubers, such as elephant ears, caladium, and canna lily are excellent candidates for lifting and storing. Unearth the plant, cut back the foliage, and wash the loose soil off the bulbs. To prevent rot, air dry them in a well-ventilated spot. When dry, wrap individual bulbs in newspaper with a small amount of peat moss or vermiculate to absorb moisture. Store the separately wrapped bulbs in a cardboard box or paper bag in a cool, dry location with temperatures above 40 degrees F.
By choosing the right plants and giving them the right care, you can transform your garden into a tropical paradise, today.