Answer: Unfortunately, Richmond is still too cold to grow most tropicals successfully outdoors during the winter. You could grow many different tropicals in containers if you are able to bring them indoors for the colder months. The tropical hibiscus, lantana, phormium, dwarf banana, bougainvillea, canna, caladium and so on will do quite well in containers. Generally speaking you would use a general purpose soilless potting mix formulated for container plants. Your local professional nursery staff should be able to help you determine the growing needs of each plant -- some do have special requirements.
There is a hardy banana (Musa basjoo) you should be able to grow planted in the ground, and you may also be able to grow some of the hardier gardenias (look for varieties considered hardy to zone 7) if planted in a sheltered location.
If you want to try growing additional tropicals (planted in the ground, not in containers) you might want to look at a book or two about it. Two especially geared toward growing tropicals in colder areas are Palms Won't Grow Here and Other Myths by David. A. Francko and also The Exotic Garden: Designing with Tropical Almost Climate by Richard Iverson. In the meantime, here is a site about growing palms in colder areas.
Good luck with your project!
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