Temperate Plants for a Tropical Look
If you don't have the climate for growing tropical plants year-round, go for the big-leaved, brightly flowered plants that have the look.
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If you love tropical plants but think you can't grow them in your climate, think again. Gardener Dan Corson shows his tropical-themed backyard that stands up to the cold and wet weather of the Pacific Northwest.
Dan loves traveling, especially to the tropics, and has always wanted to create a space that borrows from his expeditions. Most tropical plants simply cannot survive in his wet, chilly climate, however. So instead, he picks plants that lend themselves to a tropical-esque feel. They may not be genuine tropicals, but their big leaves, dramatic shapes and/or bright colors suggest the tropics:
Schefflera. Normally you see them in a doctor's office, but this Schefflera from Taiwan can overwinter in Dan's garden. Notice that the big leaves have random splits in them. By size and shape alone, this schefflera really lends itself to the tropical illusion. Hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 11.
Tower of jewels. Echium pininana originates from the Canary Islands. Commonly referred to as "tower of jewels," it produces a 12-foot-tall cone of purple flowers. Hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 11.
Empress tree. The growth of this Paulownia has been manipulated by coppicing. Every year Dan cuts it down to the ground; then, when the suckers come up, he chooses the most vigorous and cuts all the rest. This sends all the energy up into the leaves so they become supersized. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9. Note: this plant has a tendency to become invasive in some climates.
Giant Himalayan lily. Native to China, Cardiocrinum giganteum var. yunnanense is the largest lily in the world and is valued for its large size and dried seedpods. Hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 9.
Tasmanian tree fern. This tree fern (Dicksonia antarctica) adds an excellent architectural structure and height to the back of a perennial border. Hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 11.
Hardy banana. Musa basjoo is one of the hardiest bananas. Its large green leaves appear on 15-foot-tall plants. Hardy in USDA Zones 6 to 10.
Italian arum. Arum italicum produces shiny, arrowhead-like foliage with creamy white flowers. These flowers eventually develop into brilliant orange-red fruit. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.
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