Surely some of the most beautiful sights in the world are the bold, exquisite tones that Mother Nature has bestowed upon her golden children: tropical plants. Every shade imaginable literally bursts upon the naked eye among the lush blooms and fronds of tropical plants and shrubs. But with all of nature’s infinite variety, one single factor connects them all and that is their point of origin. Their area of the world is unlike any other; lands that basically know no seasonal changes. For the most part, in the tropics, daylight is the same every day of the year and the earth receives an enormous amount of sunlight. This heats the air to sultry temperatures each and every day (not to mention the nights) with only minor variations during the year.
The tropics comprise a vast area encompassing the geographic regions on both sides of the equator, bounded by the Tropic of Cancer to the north and the Tropic of Capricorn to the south. It includes much of Africa, South and Central America, Australia, India, Indochina and all of the Caribbean and South Pacific Islands! But, technically speaking, far away places are no more; not with the advances in modern communication and travel that are available today. The exotic can be “captured” and transported in all of its beautiful splendor to other tamer, more temperate climates.
The choices of colorful foliage that might be suitable for the non-tropical garden are extensive, and range from the red-green leaves of copperleaf to the striped green-and-gold leaves of the variegated spiral ginger. The Coleus too has a wild and flamboyant leaf pattern, befitting any garden. The vibrant and intense colors and exaggerated size and texture lend themselves to any design.
Tropical plants require care and planning. For example, many of the showiest tropical blooms, which might be chosen to adorn a garden, are large tubular red, orange or pink flowers that depend on hummingbirds for pollination. The red and orange blossoms attract them providing a natural chemistry. These blossoms are usually scentless because they do not need help in attracting their natural pollinators. Fragrance, however, is an important element when considering a romantic, tropical garden. Night-blooming jessamine, for example, is so strong that it can permeate an entire backyard. Gardenia and angel’s trumpet both produce lingering, sultry scents. Think about placing these plants where these scents can be savored, perhaps next to an outdoor dining area or deck or terrace.
One rule of thumb when preparing a tropical garden is to remember that ambiance derives from many other things besides plants, such as fountains, lanterns and statuary. Even one outstanding artifact (like an urn or statue) can transform a garden atmosphere from temperate to tropical! Water is an important aspect and should be incorporated in some way in the garden’s design and over-all look.
But whatever you do, have fun with tropical plants. Get creative. Construct a miniature temple ruin among the vegetation or light torches along a darkened pathway. The possibilities are endless and limited only by the confines of your imagination. So think big, colorful, sultry, tempestuous and…tropical!