Save paradise and put up a tropical delight

August 3, 2011 

Summer vacations have turned into relaxing staycations for many gardeners so it makes beautiful sense to invest in a backyard paradise.

Turning a patio into a tropical delight is as easy as choosing the right plants, colors and garden accents.

Recipe for tropical delight in a pot or bed:

One part bold foliage: canna, banana or big leaf begonia.

One part hot, bright colors: New Guinea impatiens, tuberous begonias or Gerber daisies with blooms in bright orange, bold yellow, hot pink or red.

One part spiky texture: Dracaena, New Zealand flax or Ti Plant.

Next, season this planting recipe with tiki torches, bamboo screens, tropical garden art and the sound of water. Sip some fruit punch or mai tais while listening to island music. No need to invest in an airline ticket when your own patio can become a tropical retreat.


Recycle your houseplants as patio tropics or check out the houseplant section of the garden center for bright and bold plant material to use outdoors during the summer and fall. Bromeliads, philodendrons, colorful calla lilies and lots of orchids are not only inexpensive ways to punch up a planter but you can leave these patio plants in their plastic pots and just nestle them into the soil or amongst the foliage of other plants.

Then when summer is over you have already-potted and easy-to-move houseplants that will be happy to spend the winter indoors.

Tip: Houseplants, especially those with large leaves can be subject to sunburn if you don’t let them build up a “tan” and gradually get used to a full day in the sun. Be sure to protect the tender foliage from slugs and check the undersides of pots and leaves for pests before moving potted plants back indoors for the winter.

Orchid Cheaters: Artificial orchids look just like the real deal. Buy a few stems of “never die” orchids and poke them into a pot of living plants. There are no rules in the garden.


If over wintering plants indoors is not your cup of tropical punch then plant a bed or large pot with the bold foliage and bright colors of these hardy shrubs and perennials that have an island flavor – especially when grouped together. You’ll only need to buy them once as they come back year after year.

 • Fastia japonica: shade lover with huge pointed leaves. Survives in dry shade but needs protection from winter winds so place near house.

 • Nandina or heavenly bamboo: not a real bamboo, but better-behaved.

 • Hardy hibiscus: Also called Rose of Sharon this shrub has smaller hibiscus blooms, flowers in August and September and survives even winters in windy Enumclaw.

 • Sword fern: Our native fern is almost forgotten as a great foliage plant for pots and garden beds. Survives in dry shade and under cedar trees.

 • Passion vine: Put this exotic-looking vine in a protected spot near the house and when it flowers in the summer you’ll be doing the hula.

 • Acuba: Another bold foliage plant with colorful leaves that is evergreen, tropical-looking and survives in dry shade.

But the best plant for a tropical treat has got to be:

 • Hardy windmill palm tree: The granddaddy of tropicallissimo theme gardens this is the palm tree that can survive freezing winter weather even when left in the ground with no protection. The secret is to get your young Windmill palm to toughen up by wrapping or covering the top of the palm for the first few winters. A location close to the house is preferred and wrapping the trunk with burlap and covering the roots with four inches of fallen leaves as a mulch is all that is needed to get young windmill palm trees to turn into hardy survivors. Be sure you get the hardy palm with the Latin name Trachycarpus fortunei.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her Web site at

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