This year's Philadelphia International Flower Show theme "Hawaii: Islands of Aloha," may have inspired you to think warm, tropical thoughts. But how do you get that tropical feel in your own garden?
Large foliage, colorful flowers, and wonderful floral aromas add that special tropical feel to Hawaiian gardens. However, true native Hawaiian gardens focus on subtle colors and the textural qualities of the leaves and stones, according to Anna Yorba, registered landscape architect and owner of Hawaiian Garden Design LLC, based in Aiea, Hawaii, just outside of Honolulu. To create your own "special island" in your backyard, pick stones, plants and colors to suit your own tastes.
Hawaiian gardens are famous for plants with huge, upright leaves that provide an architectural quality. Taro (Colocasia), a signature Hawaiian plant, yields poi, a food staple of native Hawaiians. Here in Pennsylvania, taro or elephant's ear bulbs grow well in the summer garden to help create that tropical feel. Alocasia bulbs are similar to Colocassia, but have thicker, waxier leaves. These bulbs are frost-tender bulbs should be treated as annuals or lifted in late fall. Other plants that you'd expect to find in the Hawaiian landscape include philodendrons, gardenias, ginger, banana, bamboo and palms.
Water and fire are important garden elements. Swimming pools surrounded by gardens are common as well as ponds and fountains. Tiki torches are a commonly used in Hawaiian landscapes.
Want to get some Hawaiian spirit in your yard? Try some statuary and stones. Buddhas and tiki statues grace Hawaiian gardens as well as natural stones such as river rocks.
A great place to get some tropical inspiration is Chanticleer, a "pleasure garden" in Wayne, PA. "For a tropical look, try plants with big foliage and coarse texture," says Jonathan Wright, Chanticleer horticulturalist. Hardy Banana or Japanese Banana (Musa basjoo) is hardy in our Mid-Atlantic region. Although it dies back to the ground, the underground rhizomes remain frost hardy. The plants won't bear fruit because our growing season is too short.
Fifteen-year-old hardy banana plants in Chanticleer's Teacup Garden reach 10 to 15 feet in one season. Wright says he cuts the hardy banana plants down to about waist-high each year and piles leaf mulch around them. If the plants are in the open, place chicken wire around them to keep the leaves from blowing away. You'll want to plant banana plants in the spring to give them the whole season to root in.
If you want that big, bold look, try Scarlet hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus). In addition, hardy hibiscus (H. moscheutos) comes in various colors and is native to our area. Summer bulbs such as inexpensive species gladiolus (Gladiolus calianthus, Peacock Orchid) look orchid-like. Plant in succession for continuous bloom throughout late spring and summer. Oriental lilies such as 'Stargazer' and 'Casa Blanca' are big, bold and fragrant. Elephant ear (Colocasia), are available in a variety of green and bronze shades. Their large leaves provide a striking, tropical effect.
Use tropical-looking perennials as edging plants and to fill in empty spots in your garden. Plants such as liriope and ferns work well in the border, as well as cannas or angel's trumpet for a lush look. Perennial ferns such as ostrich fern, royal fern, or cinnamon fern work well as fillers in shady areas.
Here are some other tropical-looking plants that you may want to try this summer: croton, caladium, castor bean plant, crocosmia and phormium. Vines such as mandevilla and passion flower vine lend a tropical look.
Don't forget about fragrance! Gardenias, plumerias, and other plants perfume Hawaiian air. Try some fragrant annuals such as nicotiana, heliotrope and white moonflower vine in your Pennsylvania paradise.
Meadowbrook Farm (Abington Township) carries many of the plants listed above. Check your local garden center as well. Have fun in your tropical paradise this summer!