Tropical Garden Dreams

By Teo Spengler | December 8, 2021
Image by Altinosmanaj
by Teo Spengler
December 8, 2021

I like mild weather and can’t really concentrate in the heat. Perhaps it was growing up in chilly Alaska, perhaps just metabolism, but every time I go to Mexico, Hawaii or other places with tropical climates, I sit around happily with a cold beverage all day long.

Given that, it may not surprise you to find that I like to imagine myself growing a garden in a tropical climate. I love the idea of thick vines, fantastic foliage with plate-size leaves and palm trees aplenty. This is very likely one of those thoughts that works better as imagination than reality, but it makes me happy to imagine designing and putting in a tropical garden.

“Come Hither” Gardens

Some experts describe tropical gardens as invoking a come-hither feeling and, for me, that is spot on. The large, lush, and lavish foliage creates a sense of peace, tranquility and rejuvenation that appeals profoundly in this over-stressed world.

I have many fantastic photos of San Francisco landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge with soft fog creeping in, and others of the impossibly green hills of Basque Country in springtime, dotted with white sheep. Yet the screen saver on my work computer features the fantastic foliage of a botanical garden in Hawaii.

Fantastic Foliage

While my current San Francisco garden mixes flowers, herbs and vegetables in a charming cottage garden effect, my tropical garden would have few crops. It would feature tropical plants with huge leaves in rich shades of green and those with slender fronds and fern-like leaves. 

This tropical mix of foliage would provide that peaceful feeling of long, warm days of relaxation. It would be important to me that the foliage not be limited to ground level, but would appear everywhere, from tall palms to ground shrubs to vines climbing the walls or emerging from hanging baskets. I want an entire back “room” of foliage to shelter me from the world. 

Brilliant Dots of Color

If my tropical garden was truly created in a tropical climate, I would definitely invite bright parrots and other exotic fauna to visit or inhabit the space. Absent bright-colored wildlife, I would bring in brilliant dots of color with flowers. 
What colors? My favorite tropical hues are hot shades of red and pink, orange and yellow. Unlike my banks of Hot Lips sage and overflowing raised beds of poppies in San Francisco, my tropical garden would use bright flowers as accents, not the main event. I might plant scarlet cannas or orange birds of paradise, enough to delight but not overwhelm.

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