With summer just around the corner, now is a great time to add a touch of the tropics to your garden or patio. While many of these plants are tender or marginally hardy, most can survive a mild winter with just a little bit of protection. Others should be treated as annuals, or brought indoors if you want to keep them year after year. Here are some of my favourite plants for creating a tropical look and feel in the garden.
Windmill Palm Tree
The windmill palm is one of the only palm trees hardy in our Zone 7 climate. A slender, tree-like trunk is covered in dark hairy fibers. Fan like, evergreen palm fronds emerge from the top of the trunk to create a wonderful tropical appearance. Great accent plant or specimen for the yard, the hot tub or the pool! While usually hardy, protect it in winter from cold, winds, snow and ice. Moderate grower, 25 to 30 ft. tall with a compact 8 to 10 ft. wide crown. Best in full sun and regular watering - weekly, or more often in extreme heat. Evergreen. Hardy in zones 7-11.
Monkey Puzzle Tree
This unique tree is native to South America and is a wonderful specimen tree. It’s name comes from the fact that it is the only tree a Monkey can’t climb! Foliage is evergreen, sharp and pointy. Plant this one where it can be seen but not touched! Well suited for coastal planting sites in the full sun. Can grow to 75ft, but extremely slow growing, it may be generations before it reaches that height!
Hardy Fibre Banana
Musa basjoo is the most hardy variety of the banana plants. If you want even a chance of the plant surviving in our climate, this is the one to choose. Large tropical looking leaves emerge from a central stalk. A fast grower, with huge leaves that may reach 2 feet wide and 6 feet long. Produces attractive golden cream flowers and small, somewhat seedy fruit. Excellent for use in borders, containers or near a pool. Best grown in full sun with regular watering - weekly, or more often in extreme heat. Loves organic soils and benefits from high nitrogen fertilizers. Protect from strong winds that can damage the leaves. Hardy in zones 7-11. Winter will usually kill off the mother plant, but if you can protect the roots, new baby banana plants will emerge from the soil.
Cherie Tropical Hibiscus
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Cherie’
Tropical Hibiscus are the warmth loving cousins of the more hardy Rose of Sharon that blooms and survives here in Vancouver. Cherie is orange-red flowering form with large, tropical-looking, summer-blooming flowers. The plant itself is deciduous, if it survives the winter, and is moderate growing up to 6-8ft tall and 3-4ft wide. It’s best planted in full sun with regular watering. Hardy in zones 10-11
Tropicanna Canna Lily
Canna var ‘Phasion’
Canna Tropicanna is a tropical perennial with tall stems crowned by large bright orange flower heads blooming in summer. Exotic foliage adds interest, with emerging bright burgundy leaves maturing with stripes of red, pink, yellow, and green. This dramatic specimen provides bold color and lush texture to garden beds, or as a featured container specimen. Herbaceous perennial. Upright stalks quickly reach 5 ft. tall, forming clumps 3 to 4 ft. wide. Best grown in full sun. Needs regular watering - best with evenly moist soil. Water regularly during first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system. In mild winter areas leave in-ground for spring regrowth. In cold winter areas dig and store bulb in a cool dry place. Hardy in zones 7-11
Black Pantha Lily of the Nile
Agapanthus orientalis ‘Black Pantha’
Black Pantha Lily of the Nile is a tender perennial with round clusters of dark blue, trumpet shaped flowers that appear on a 3ft stalk above the gray-green foliage. Blooms in late spring to summer. Great cut flower too! This plant can reach 3ft tall and 2ft wide and is great for mixed borders, containers and mass plantings. Best for sun to part sun in moist, fertile well drained soil. Allow soil to dry slightly between waterings. Performs better with a yearly application of fertilizer in Spring. Hardy in zones 7-11
Frost Proof Gardenia
Gardenia jasminoides 'Frostproof'
Frostproof is a Gardenia with a more upright habit, supporting shiny, dark green leaves and fragrant, white 2- to 3-inch wide flowers make this a fine hedge or foundation plant that thrives with more direct sun than other varieties. Flower buds resist late spring frosts without damage. Slow growing to 5 ft. tall and 4 ft. wide. Evergreen in warmer climates. Best in full to part sun. Hardy in zones 7-11
Libertia ixiodes ‘Goldfinger’
Also known as New Zealand Iris, this alternative to Phormium offers narrow, vibrant orange-gold evergreen foliage with a similar upright spiky habit. It’s small size and vertical form make Libertia ideal for borders and containers. White, star-like flowers mature to ornamental seed pods. Best grown in full to part sun. Hardy in zones 7-10
Star Jasmine is a great one for adding vertical interest. This semi-evergreen climbing vine is known for its deliciously perfumed spring and summer-blooming white flowers. Best in full sun and regular watering. Its twining stems can grow 18-20ft. Hardy to zone 8, but is fairly reliable even in our colder zone 7 climate.
Lavender Lady Passionflower Vine
Passiflora x ‘Lavender Lady’
Possibly one of the most beautiful, complex flowers we have ever seen. Lavender Lady Passion Flower is a semi-evergreen to deciduous vine with intriguing lavender to purple showy flowers that bloom in summer through fall. Its fast growing and vigorous, reaching 15-20ft long. Best in full sun and winter protection. Water regularly when top inches of soil are dry. Officially its hardy in zones 9-11, but we have seen it survive in the Pacific Northwest in protected areas and with milder winters.
Sizzling Pink Fringe Flower
Loropetalum chinense 'Sizzling Pink'
Sizzling Pink Fringe Flower produces Clusters of rich, pink fringed flowers that repeat throughout the year. Showy new growth is deep burgundy maintaining the purple tinged foliage as it matures. Use as a colorful accent in borders and containers. Best in full to part sun. Water regularly, when top 3 in. of soil is dry. Evergreen. Reaches 4 to 6 ft. tall, 4 to 5 ft. wide. Hardy in zones 7-9
King Tut Egyptian Papyrus
Cyperus papyrus ‘King Tut’
King Tut Papyrus is an upright growing, graceful grass is grown for its attractive looking foliage. Feathery heads on green stalks create a striking effect for water gardens or damp areas. Can grow 4-6ft tall. Its best planted in the full sun either in or very near water. Also wonderful when used in containers. Treat this one as an annual as it will not survive our winters. Hardy in zones 9-11.
Royal Hawaiian Black Coral Elephant Ear
Colocasia esculenta 'Black Coral'
The Royal Hawaiian Black Coral Elephant Ear, or Colocasia produces large striking, glossy, jet-black foliage that contrasts spectacularly with bright-colored plants. Spreads freely in rich, wet soils; more slowly in dry, clay soil. Adds bold color and tropical flair to any garden. Best in full to part sun. Highly effective at the edge of a pond or water garden. Performs in containers. Herbaceous perennial. Reaches 3 to 3½ ft. tall and wide. Hardy in zones 8 - 10
This amazing looking plant produces giant leaves from the base of the plant to create a dramatic striking display. Leaves can be 1-2ft in diameter. Some call it the Dinosaur Plant because of its huge leaves. Prefers full to part sun and moist, if not wet soil. Blooms June through August. Perennial, hardy in zones 5-7. Not edible.
Hope you enjoyed this selection of outdoor tropicals. As always, please call ahead to confirm availability as our selection is always changing!