Thumb through any good books about tropical landscapes and it soon becomes apparent that a plant's foliage is the key element of design. Flowers tend to be an afterthought, playing second fiddle to the over exaggerated rich tapestry of foliage that is greatly utilized. Large, bold and often architectural leaf forms are the hallmark of any tropical design.
In this final installment, we'll take a look at some plants long considered to be too tropical to over winter in a cooler environment. If you've managed to stumble onto this post and are wondering what the heck is going on, here's a quick recap. The last three posts have been based around a remarkable garden that I visited in Northern Virginia, created by self-confessed 'Zone Pusher' called Panama John. I was invited to explore this Tropical Eden by another zone denial victim, Boca Joe, who with Panama John demonstrated that the wealth of plants we could grow in zone 7 was far greater than believed.
|The bold foliage of Tetrapanax|
When beginning to explore Tropicalesque gardening, one plant that immediately grabs your attention is the bold Rice Paper Plant, Tetrapanax papyrifer. Until this visit I had only read about it, but here Johns garden it took center stage right by the front door. Its extremely large, dissected foliage created a bold statement, providing an exciting contrast with its surrounding neighbors. It reminded me greatly of another bold, otherworldly plant that I wish we could grow here, the Giant Rhubarb, Gunnera maculata. Both plants have a 'Alice in Wonderland' appeal that provide well for their use in gardens as show stoppers.
John had no shortage of Hardy Japanese Banana, Musa Basjoo, on hand giving that tropical punch to the garden. Few people even realize that this banana is actually rated for zone 6a gardens, dying back anywhere from a trunk (pseudostem), all the way down to its underground rhizome. A thick layer of mulch will protect the underground rhizome that will quickly re-sprout in spring, or if the winter has been mild, will push new grow from the pseudostem. If you're lucky to get it to flower the golden creamy flowers will give way to somewhat seedy fruit.
|Amorphophallus Konjac Foliage|
Reflecting back over these last few posts, I can honestly say its been a long time since I found myself this excited over a garden. What the likes of Panama John and Boca Joe are doing is nothing short of remarkable. By never accepting conventional wisdom, John has pushed the envelope and produced an amazing tropical oasis in the heart of North Virginia. I'm thankful to both of them for opening my eyes to this this new world of possibilities. Never again will I look at another so called 'tender' plant and not want to try my luck.
'If you are not killing plants, you are not really stretching yourself as a gardener' - J.C. Raulston
Follow this link to read Part One - Tree Treasures of Emerald and Silver or Part Two - Palm Trees without the Ocean Breeze
What to read more about Zone Pushing, here's Panama John's and Boca Joe's publication through the Virginia Extension Service