Garden Planning - Knowledgebase Question

Phoenix, Ar
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Question by manoj_mangay
March 3, 2009
I live in Phoenix, AZ. I have a big planter box in my back yard where I would like to setup a garden with a tropical look, with a green background and lot of flowers at the border. Could you please suggest some plants that can be used?

Answer from NGA
March 3, 2009
A garden that looks exotic has several key characteristics: plants with foliage that varies from huge, palm and fern-like, spiky, colorful, and background to many hot-colored flowers. Lush evergreens with vivid foliage and accented with florescent flowers are readily available at your favorite garden center. Always begin with a backbone of tropical-looking plants that are hardy enough to withstand our sometimes frosty winter nights.

Hardy tropical-looking large shrubs such as Red Tipped Photinia and the entire Euonymus family have waxy evergreen leaves and vivid colors that easily create a sense of privacy. Large-leafed perennials also make great background plants. Choose Ornamental Rhubarb or Rheum palmatun, which has gigantic leaves with color throughout its leaves and stems. One plant that is essential in creating a tropical garden is the Canna. Its large leaves come in green, burgundy, and with vivid stripes. Cannas have some of the brightest flower colors in the gardening world and decidedly contribute to that tropical effect. They do well in containers or when planted directly in flower beds. Hostas, in their many eye-catching varieties, are valuable components to creating a tropical atmosphere. As common as hostas, but hardier specimens, are variegated horseradish plants.

The Moscheutos Hibiscus has the classic tropical flowers and is hardy enough to brighten your tropical garden year after year. And don't forget a Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus.

Your tropical retreat needs spiky plants, and Arizona is famous for spiky Yucca and Agave selections. Each variety sends up a huge erect flower stem that stands taller than you and I do; but they are most famous for their foliage colors of variegated yellows, dark desert greens, and the classic Arizona blues. Daylilies and purple fountain grass are easy-care, dependable plants that also fulfill the ?spiky? component.

Of course, no tropical garden is complete without bamboo. This is a huge family of plants that grows well right in the landscape. However, bamboo can be invasive. That?s why I use tall varieties in large containers.

Finally, color is the easy part to build into a tropical garden. Look for lobelia, dahlias, heucheras, penstemon, autumn sage, sweet potato vine, geraniums, osteospermum, coleus, dusty miller, and my favorite, the marguerite daisy. Many garden centers already have these blooming in ready-to-take-home container gardens. To complement these low-growing touches of color, use some taller plants with large flowers; and don't be afraid to grow them in containers for additional interest in the garden. In choosing plants for tropical color just pick your favorites and have fun.

Finally, if you really can't resist some truly tropical plants try some of these that grow well outside, but need to be brought indoors by December. If you don?t want to bother with moving plants indoors when temps drop, just treat these tender beauties as annuals that you?ll replace each year.

Some of the heavier bloomers that do well in containers are bougainvillea, tropical hibiscus, and midnight blue agapanthus. Mandevillas, fast-growing vines with huge trumpet-shaped flowers, are appearing in some newer varieties such as Pink Moonlight Parfait and the new Tango Twirl. These have double flowers which deliver an even more abundant show of color.

For fragrances that linger plant gardenias with their pungent white blooms and heavily scented star jasmine with its star-shaped flowers. You can count on good ol? lantana for a profusion of colorful blooms in purple, yellow, and orange. A tropical classic is the bird of paradise with its sculptured orange and blue blooms, and there's an even hardier variety that thinks it's a native here even through the winter.

Cordyline "Baueri" resembles a red yucca and is stunning in the right container. Without exception, the most exotic-looking plant I know is the banana tree.

Hope these suggestions are helpful!

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