Enjoying the Tropics in the Cold North

A master gardener tells how to enjoy tropical plants even if you're not in a typical climate for them.

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Hanging baskets of fuchsias are easily stored for winter in a dark closet. (All photos coutesy of Maureen Gilmer)

Do you have a passion for passionflower? Does the scent of jungle gardenia carry you away? Maybe bougainvillea or hibiscus evoke memories of a romantic tropical vacation? If you answered yes to any of these, but live north of the Mason-Dixon line, then please read on.

The world of tropical plants is changing. Growing them in portable containers has brought the exotic looks and color into northern gardens for the season. Then simply winter over the plants in their pots indoors for an encore the following year.

Logee's Greenhouses in Connecticut is spearheading this new approach that brings tropicals into new territories. During the frost-free summer months, these plants thrive outdoors to beautify porch, patio and garden. The summer part is simple for any gardener, but it gets confusing when considering what to do when autumn frost approaches. Logees has solved the problem.

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Let's use their selection of South American Brugmansia hybrids as an example. Commonly known as angel's trumpet, they are among the most coveted and dramatic tropical garden plants. These big shrubby nightshades bear six- to 10-inch-long dangling bell-shaped flowers in pink, white or yellow, which grow intensely fragrant at dusk. They are the highlight of your nocturnal summer garden.

The catalog's From the Growers tip bar tells you everything you need to know to usher your dormant potted angels trumpet through the winter. You prune the plant down to a size you can easily bring inside to store in a dark basement away from the heater. Allow the remaining leaves to shed naturally. Check the soil every three weeks to ensure that it doesn't dry out completely. Add a small amount of water if necessary. Once the last frost passes in spring, bring it out again, prune for shape and let it grow.

You are guaranteed to lust after the Logee's passionflower cultivars. This extraordinary vine with its huge exotic and highly detailed flowers was once found only along the Gulf Coast and southern California. Developments in breeding have expanded the flower color range to include bright red, coral, blue and royal purple. The corolla of the flowers, once straight and sparse, is now thick, striped and wavy.

These plants are guaranteed to be the highlight of any summer garden. Grow on a porch or patio where you can relish the detail of the blossoms up close. Beware that some heat-loving tropicals are such fast summer growers that you can nestle their pots into your existing beds and borders for the warm months. One reason some of these plants are so hot right now is that many of the Logee's varieties are winter bloomers. The shorter days are what stimulates blossom production, making them extraordinary houseplants.

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There is too much to list in this full-color 92-page catalog that also features a great selection of tropical begonias. Yes, they bloom nicely, but their chief feature is outstanding foliage with bright colors, stripes, spots and spirals. They make exquisite indoor winter plants but will also thrive in moist shady beds and under shade structures outdoors in the summer. Browse the pages to find edible and ornamental fruit plants, orchids, fragrant wax vine, carnivorous pitcher plants and the night-blooming cereus vine cactus, with its dinner-plate-size flowers.

Peruse Logee's nursery online at www.Logees.com. In the catalog you'll also find an excellent reference book for the new outdoor-indoor tropical gardening, written by the Logee Family. It contains their secrets for successful cultivation of tropicals in containers. It's designed to take the fear out of growing exotics and tropicals for northern gardeners.

If you are longing for tropicalia, but live in the land of ice and snow, fear not: Logee's gives you the plants and the knowledge. Just because you're a Yankee doesn't mean you can't enjoy southern jasmine and nightshades on balmy summer nights.

Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist and host of Weekend Gardening on the DIY Network. For more information, visit www.moplants.com.

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