Exotic Tropicals In Your Garden Part 2
A small red Abyssinian banana can reach up to 15 feet tall by the time it is killed by frost in the fall. It is often said in garden-design books that any successful garden combines a balance of flowers and foliages. Flowers abound in both perennials and annuals. There are many good ground-covering plants with interesting foliage, including perennials like hostas and pulmonaria and annuals like dusty miller and coleus. But sizeable foliage plants are often void in many gardens.
For massive exotic foliage, there is perhaps no better choice than the giant elephant ear, Alocasia macrorhiza. In summer it will send up upright-facing, shiny green leaves. It can reach nearly 9 feet tall. Providing a striking backdrop for almost any colored flowering is the black elephant ear, Alocasia "Black Velvet." For the diminutive garden, there is Alocasia "Hilo Beauty," which has apple-green leaves with attractive cream markings. Requiring partial shade is another large growing elephant ear, Xanthosoma sagittifolium "Chartreuse Giant." Throughout the summer, this plant sports large leaves that are a soft butter yellow.
For more upright foliage and an array of interesting flowers, the cannas offer a myriad of choices. Like elephant ears, cannas can be purchased as a plant or as rhizome (also sold with summer-flowering bulbs). Some grow to be over 10 feet tall while others reach only 3 feet. All have broad strap-like foliage that points skyward. While most of the foliage is green, there are a few interesting variegated forms. Flowering is profuse, and colors range from yellow to orange to red.
One of the best of the dwarf cannas is Canna "Pink Beauty," which reaches a height of 28 inches and is covered in hot-pink flowers edged in gold and glossy green foliage. My favorite canna is "Pretoria," which will reach 5 to 9 feet tall. The leaves are green with distinct parallel striations of golden chartreuse. The deep orange flowers make for a stunning contrast against the luxuriant foliage. Another interesting variegated selection is "Pink Sunburst." Like "Pretoria," its foliage is striated, but this cultivar combines green, orange and red. Atop these 3-foot plants are soft pink flowers.
The banana, a true icon of tropical gardens, combines well with elephant ears and cannas. It offers significant height in the summer garden, robust foliage and often striking stem and leaf coloring. Not requiring a large amount of space is the blood leaf banana, Musa zebrina. The wide leaves have an irregular, yet stunning splashing of a dark red. For unsurpassed impact in the tropical garden, consider the red Abyssinian banana, Ensete ventricosum "Maurelii." In a good season, it may reach 12 to 15 feet tall. The long, lustrous green leaves have a burgundy undertone. The smooth trunk is a striking shiny red.
For all the impact they make in the summer garden, these tropicals require very little care. They will thrive if given rich soil and ample amounts of water, fertilizer and sun. It is amazing how these plants will transform a garden that you may feel has become lackluster and predictable into a lush tropical paradise where you least expect it.