Home & Design: Landscape

Your Tropical Paradise

By Anne Halpin - August 19, 2020

If you’ve been spending a lot more time than usual at home this summer, outdoors on your deck or patio, around the pool, in the pool house or gazebo, on the porch or in the sunroom, you’ve probably wanted to make it a place where you really enjoy spending time. No doubt you have comfortable furniture there, and a place to dine. Perhaps you have a fire pit or fountain. And maybe you’re longing to escape to a tropical paradise. Who knows if we’ll be able to head to the islands this winter? But you can create your own tropical getaway right here outside your house, on your deck or patio, or in your garden. We have the water nearby, and that magical East End light around us, so all you need is the lush surroundings.
Including tropical plants in pots and tubs can turn your outdoor living space into your own little paradise. The weather is generally warm here through September and even into October, so you may still be able to find tropicals at local nurseries, and perhaps pick up some bargains. And you can certainly plan ahead for next year. Here are some ways to bring a bit of the tropics to your outdoor space.
Many East End nurseries sell tropical plants for summer gardens. Set pots of them on your deck or patio, or in a gazebo, around the pool and pool house, even in the garden for colorful, textural, seasonal accents. Here are some strategies for creating your paradise.
A lush composition needs tall things for height, like a forest canopy, bold middle ground plants for volume and lushness, flowers for brilliant color, and vines and cascaders to climb trellises and spill over the edges of pots. These strategies can work in pots, tubs and planters, or in a garden bed.
First, start with tall plants and trees for height. A tree can take center stage in a large pot, especially if it will be viewed from all sides, or if viewed from one side, place it in the back. You can find lots of choices in local nurseries – palms, ficus trees and banana plants work well in shade. In a sunnier location consider citrus trees (bushy or trained as standards with a ball of foliage, flowers and fruit atop a tall straight stem), hibiscus with flowers in warm colors, in tree or bush form, brugmansia or angel’s trumpet, which produces large, dangling trumpet flowers of white or yellow or orange (not recommended around small children or pets), or gardenias which can be found as standards and whose creamy white flowers are devastatingly fragrant.

Next, bold foliage adds lushness to the middle ground. There are elephant ears (alocasia and colocasia) and split-leaf philodendron for a shady spot, gingers, ornamental bananas, bird of paradise and canna lilies with their stalks of big, bold lily-like flowers in hot shades of red, orange and yellow for brighter places.
For nonstop color dahlias are hard to beat. They come in several forms and sizes, and a host of warm colors from pastels to brights. Cut off spent blossoms, water when needed and they will bloom all summer until fall frost shuts them down. Other good candidates include flowering vines on tripods or trellises – morning glories and their night blooming relative, moonflower, mandevilla with big, pink, trumpet shaped blossoms, richly fragrant jasmine, allamanda with yellow trumpet flowers, and exotic passionflowers in purple, white or red on graceful tendrilled vines.
To fill in space lower down, and/or to spill over the sides of pots and planters there are crotons and bromeliads (pineapple relatives) in bright red, yellow and orange, caladiums with foliage patterned in green, red, pink and white for shady spots, and lots more. Just remember that most tropical plants need water – if you are after no-care plants, consider cactus.
Stretch out in your lounge chair, with a cool drink, surrounded by the lush greenery and colorful flowers of your tropical garden, and pretend you’re in paradise.

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