Saturday, July 19, 2008

If the summers are going to be like this, we might as well grow tropicals....And they're never invasive!

Can't help myself, I love tropical plants, there's just something about them! I write about plants every day but not so often about tropicals. A whole different set of adjectives describes these plants: luxuriant, lush, exuberant (when we use this word about our own plants it's usually a euphemism for invasive), riotous, sinuous . Some adjectives which normally have a negative connotation become positive when applied to tropical plantings: rank, heavy, redolent, earthy. I want to use the word curvaceous, but I know that that will put me in dangerous territory; but the curves are sinuous, the colors are opulent, the growth is lush. I am pretty sure I know why Georgia O'Keefe loved the flowers she loved. And hey, step outside! We have the weather for it.

It is curious to me that for years public gardens have been adding tropicals to their seasonal planting: Alocasias, Colocasias, Xanthosomas, Bananas, Amorphophallus, and all its odd allies, and a host of others, but this doesn't seem to have penetrated the garden center industry. Merrifield Gardens is the only place I know that stocks any kind of variety of tropical plants. They don't really have what I would call a good assortment,but they do have some. What everybody has is Colocasia 'Black Magic', Alocasia 'Amazonica', Elephant-ear bulbs, and maybe a variegated Brugmansia. To me this is the "Mr.Jones" school of tropicals. Old Bob Dylan reference, "You know something's happening but you don't know what it is...".

Just about every Hedychium is root hardy here in Zone 7. Papayas, the quintessential tropical foliage plant can be flowered from seed if you have a greenhouse, well most of us don't, but if the garden centers would give us plants in May or June, we could get them pretty big, probably with flowers and fruit by frost. And Brugmansias, two of my friends have kept "Charles Grimaldi', one of the best selections for fragrance and continuity of bloom, alive in the ground, for years. If you don't want to do that, it'll flower profusely in one season from a small plant and it's easily kept dormant inside through the winter. There is that wonderful red-leafed tropical Hibiscus, Hibiscus acetosella...Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, Oleander. It's hard for me to stop listing! Just one more plant, Bananas; hardy 'Basjoo', tender but incredibly beautiful Abyssinian Red Banana, and a whole range of new introductions, some hardy some not but even those are easily overwintered.

And you know what, these are fast growing, inexpensively produced plants that are already grown in Florida. There ought to be a good profit margin even allowing for freight. It must be far more profitable, for example, than bringing in California "patio plants" which are expensive to buy, because they're from California, and expensive to ship because its farther away. So let's get on the ball and sell the plants I want. Does that sound selfish?

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