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The Bold Beauty of Tropical Plants – Hardy Varieties for Your Area

Falling Head Over Heels for Tropical Flair

I have to admit, I never thought I’d be the type to swoon over tropical plants. As a Midwestern gardener, I always assumed those lush, oversized leaves and vibrant blooms were strictly reserved for warmer climates. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a book by Marianne Willburn, Tropical Plants and How to Love Them. At the time, I was firmly in the “tropical plants aren’t really my thing” camp. But Willburn’s infectious enthusiasm and practical advice made me reconsider.

“Maybe this book will change your mind,” she had playfully told me when signing my copy. And change my mind, it did. I soon found myself captivated by the bold, larger-than-life qualities of tropical plants. The way they effortlessly steal the spotlight, commanding attention wherever they’re planted. The sheer drama they bring to the garden. I was hooked.

Discovering the Joys of Cold-Hardy Tropicals

Of course, as a gardener in Today’s Gardens’ climate zone, I knew growing true tropicals would be a challenge. But Willburn’s book opened my eyes to a whole world of hardy tropical lookalikes that could thrive in my backyard.

“Mocktrops,” as she calls them, are plants that capture the essence of tropicals but can withstand the colder temperatures of northern gardens. Think giant rhubarb-like leaves, towering flower stalks, and vibrant foliage in shades of red, purple, and chartreuse.

I started incorporating these hardy tropical gems wherever I could – lining the entryway, flanking the patio, even weaving them into my perennial borders. And let me tell you, the reactions I get from visitors are priceless. “What is that?!” they exclaim, eyes wide with wonder. I love being able to share the story of these exotic-looking plants that defy the odds in my own garden.

Choosing the Right Tropical-Inspired Plants

Of course, not all tropical-inspired plants are created equal. As Willburn emphasizes, it’s important to carefully consider the “relationship” you want to have with these bold beauties. Are you looking for a long-term commitment, or a summer fling? Do you have the time and energy to provide the specialized care some tropicals require?

After experimenting with a few different options, I’ve found that the key is to focus on hardy, low-maintenance varieties that deliver big impact with minimal effort. Here are a few of my favorite tropical-inspired plants that have become staples in my garden:

Colocasia (Elephant Ears)

These dramatic, oversized leaves have a way of instantly transporting me to a lush, jungle-like setting. I can’t get enough of the glossy, heart-shaped foliage that seems to almost spill over the edges of my planters and garden beds. My go-to varieties are ‘Coffee Cups’ and ‘Heart of the Jungle’ – both of which thrive in my full-sun, moist soil conditions.

Canna Lilies

With their towering flower stalks and bold, tropical-looking foliage, cannas are a must-have for adding a touch of the exotic. I’m particularly smitten with the ‘Pretoria’ cultivar, whose orange blooms are hummingbird magnets all summer long. I tuck them in behind lower-growing perennials like Calamintha to create a stunning juxtaposition of textures and heights.


While not technically tropical, dahlias have a certain je ne sais quoi that fits right in with my tropical-inspired plantings. Those dinner plate-sized blooms in dreamy shades of blush, peach, and burgundy never fail to stop passersby in their tracks. I especially love the ‘Cafe au Lait Royale’ variety for its elegant, almost otherworldly appearance.


If you’re craving tropical flair but want something a little more low-key, coleus is your plant. With its vibrant, multi-colored foliage in shades ranging from fiery red to deep plum, coleus adds a bold punch of color without being overpowering. I like to use it as a filler plant, weaving it through my garden beds and containers for a lush, dynamic look.

Overwintering Tropical Treasures

Of course, one of the challenges of growing tropical-inspired plants in a cold climate like mine is dealing with the winter months. While some hardy varieties can tough it out in the ground, others require a bit more coddling.

Take my beloved brugmansia, for example. Also known as angel’s trumpet, this stunning flowering shrub is a true diva when it comes to overwintering. After a summer of cascading, sweetly-scented blooms, I have to dig up the entire plant, prune it back, and carefully tuck it away in my basement for the winter. It’s a labor of love, for sure, but the payoff come spring is always worth it.

Similarly, my Musa basjoo (hardy banana) spends its winters snug as a bug in a rug, its rhizomes wrapped in burlap and insulation. While I can’t exactly grow bananas in my garden, the impressive, tropical-looking foliage is enough to satisfy my cravings for the exotic.

Of course, not every tropical-inspired plant requires such intensive measures. Dahlias and cannas, for instance, can simply be dug up, their tubers stored in a cool, dry place until replanting time. And the ever-resilient coleus? I just take cuttings in the fall, root them indoors, and transplant the new growth come spring.

Embracing the Bold and the Beautiful

As I’ve discovered, there’s no need to limit myself to the traditional perennials and annuals of a northern garden. By incorporating a few carefully-chosen tropical-inspired plants, I’ve been able to inject a whole new level of drama and excitement into my outdoor spaces.

Sure, it takes a bit more work to overwinter some of these bold beauties. But in my opinion, the payoff is more than worth it. There’s just something about walking past an impressive elephant ear or a towering canna that brings a smile to my face and a spring to my step.

And the reactions I get from visitors? Priceless. “What is that?” they’ll exclaim, eyes wide with wonder. I love being able to share the story of these exotic-looking plants that defy the odds in my own garden. It’s a little taste of the tropics, right here in the heart of the Midwest.

So if you’re looking to add a touch of the bold and the beautiful to your outdoor oasis, I highly encourage you to explore the world of hardy tropical-inspired plants. With a little creativity and care, you can transform your garden into a lush, drama-filled paradise – no passport required.

Today’s Garden is Garden and Landscape Company, provides all you need about Garden and Landscape Design to get better garden decorations.

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