Exotic Tropicals In Your Garden
Gardening in the northern part of the United States offers many opportunities for the gardener, such as distinct seasons of interest and a relatively long growing season. However, for those who may have previously lived in a tropical or subtropical climate, the plants found in those types of environments are usually missing in their current surroundings.
I know that after living for a time in Hawaii, Queensland, California, Florida, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean, I can't help but look out on a northern landscape and wonder where all the banana trees, the palm trees, the cacti, and most of all the citrus and fig trees are! Unless you have eaten oranges, tangerines, mandarins, or figs that have just been picked fresh and ripe from a tree, you honestly can not state that you have the slightest clue what these fruits really taste like. The fresh from the tree taste almost holds no relevance to that which has been sitting in a crate in the back of a truck for a week or more! It's hard to believe but you can even eat lemons fresh from the tree as well. Just look for the ones which are larger and almost shaped like lumpy grapefruit. Almost every tree has two or three. Then dig in. Yum!
Traditionally, one summer gardening chore is to go to the local nursery or garden center to select annuals. These are normally planted after the last frost-free date (in the North, this ranges from May 15 to June 1). Popular annuals might include marigolds, geranium, petunias, dusty miller, ageratum, lobelia and many others. While these traditional annuals provide ample flower color for the summer and fall, they often lack interesting foliage.
In many cities throughout the United States (and I've seen similar trends in Britain), there is a movement in garden centers to expand their annual holdings to include interesting foliage plants, which are often more recognized with plantings you might see in the more tropical climates of the world.
Now there are many choices to bring bold and tropical foliages to the summer garden. In the heat and humidity of the summer, these annuals will grow to surprising sizes. While hundreds of choices are available, there are distinct groups that are proven winners and easy to grow. One of my favorite groups of plants are the elephant ears. They are often listed under the following Latin names: Alocasia, Colocasia or Xanthosoma. They can be purchased as plants or as fleshy tubers (often sold with summer-flowering bulbs such as Gladiolus). They are named elephant ears for their strong resemblance to the ear of an elephant, long stalks arise from the ground and are terminated with a sizeable leaf at the end of each. They make bold additions to both the annual and perennial garden and make an intriguing addition to a container planting. Like most other tropical foliage plants, they will grow best if given a supplemental liquid or granular fertilizer high in nitrogen throughout the summer months and if given full sun exposure.
Some of the most popular tropical annual introductions to nurseries include bananas, cannas and elephant ears. Similar to the more traditional annuals, these plants can offer fantastic bold and colored foliages through to frost.