Le paradis terrestre requires a few plants—37 to be exact.
Unlike Voltaire, I’m obsessed with tropicals. But B and I live in a more temperate zone 7, bordering on 8, and many of these potted beauties shrivel and shrink when the temperature drops below freezing. (Maybe that’s why our garage looks like a jungle in January. Only the monkeys are missing.)
Anyway, all is revealed in this list of plants. I’ve included my own sources, even though Singing Springs, the nursery where I found most of my favorites, closed in 2006. In her last letter. owner Pam Baggett, who now spends her time writing about gardens, provided a list of mail order nurseries that sell tropicals. I’ve added it to the end of my own list, in case you simply can’t live without your own ‘Hilo Beauty.’
Here are 37 plants for your own private jungle:
2 Brugmansia suaveolens (Angel’s Trumpet), dangling yellow trumpets, fragrant, especially in the evening. Singing Springs Nursery.
1 Brugmansia ‘Sunset’ (Angel’s Trumpet), soft apricot flowers, pale green leaves splotched with cream. Singing Springs Nursery.
1 Brugmansia, unknown (Angel’s Trumpet), pale pink flowers. Raleigh, N.C. Farmers’ Market.
The four brugmansias are in huge pots underplanted with purple ‘Heat Wave’ petunias, cascading Ipomoea batatas ‘Margarita’ (lime green ornamental sweet potato vines) and gold Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ (Creeping Jenny)
1 Cymbopogon citratus (Lemon grass) Delicious roots and leaves, used in Asian cooking and for tea. Carrboro, N.C. Farmers Market.
1 Dahlia, unknown. Hot pink blooms on dark purple stems. Dickinson’s Nursery, Chapel Hill, N.C.
1 pot Agapanthus species ‘Elaine’ (Lily of the Nile), 4’ stems, strappy green leaves, dark blue-violet blooms. Plant Delights Nursery.
1 Ficus caprica ‘Violette de Bordeaux’ (Fig) “Purplish black fruit with rich strawberry flavor. Considered by many the finest tasting fig.” Has not, however, borne for me but there’s always next year. Edible Landscaping.
1 Pennisetum ‘Purple Majesty’ (Purple Fountain Grass). Dickinson’s Nursery.
1 Dwarf papyrus. Stems are 2-1/2 to 3 feet tall. Perfect size for Chinese water pot. Raleigh, N.C. Farmer’s Market.
1 Sarraccenia flava (Yellow Trumpet Pitcher Plant). Insect trap, submerged in the other Chinese water pot. Plant Delights Nursery.
1 Olive tree ‘Frantoia’, rescued from the sidewalk at Smith & Hawken a few years ago. Hasn’t borne any fruit, but the silvery leaves and willowy branches are lovely.
1 Meyer lemon tree. Saved from sure death at Whole Foods during a heat wave this summer. Three lemons ripening now. A predecessor from Edible Landscaping lived five years in a pot and bore 12-18 lemons annually. Skins are especially fragrant and can be grated over pasta and potatoes, into dough for lemon tart, and into lemon pots de crème.
1 Passiflora hybrida ‘Lady Margaret’ (‘Ruby’ passion flower) Exquisite crimson blossoms on a twining vine. Grow this and other passion flowers in pots, or they will spread uncontrollably through the garden. Raleigh, N.C. Farmers Market. For fruit, try Passiflora incarnata from Edible Landscaping.
1 Phormium tenax ‘Atropurpureum’ (New Zealand Flax). “Swordlike…chocolate purple leaves 2” wide but 3-5’ long.” Singing Springs Nursery. Looks wonderful in a weathered copper urn underplanted with cascading pink and rose striped petunias found at Home Depot.
1 pot Colocasia antiquorum illustris (Elephant ear), “charcoal black leaves dramatically veined with green.” Singing Springs Nursery.
1 Agave attenuata ‘Huntington Blue’. Pale green leaves with a grayish-blue cast. Tender. Singing Springs Nursery.
1 Plumeria, unknown. (Frangipani) bought last year at the Raleigh, N.C. Farmers Market. Has yet to produce the promised pale yellow, intoxicatingly perfumed blooms, but it did grow 4 feet this year.
1 Wollemi Pine Tree, Jurassic era “living fossil” discovered in Australia. Graceful pine with feathery blue green needles. A gift, via National Geographic.
2 Alocasia ‘Portadora’ (Elephant ear),. Huge, deeply ruffled green leaves that point upwards to the sky. Singing Springs Nursery. Both are underplanted with dark purple Ipomoea batatas “Blackie” (ornamental sweet potato vine)
3 Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ (Pineapple Lily). Dark burgundy strap-like foliage with a single long-stemmed blossom of clustered white and purple flowers that looks like a tiny pineapple. Plant Delights Nursery.
1 Canna glauca ‘Panache’ (Canna lily) Gorgeous soft apricot, rose-centered blossoms that draw hummingbirds. Attractive bluish-green foliage. Plant Delights Nursery.
1 pot Polianthes tuberosa ‘Single Mexican’ bulbs. (Tuberoses) Intoxicating white blossoms that exude their fragrance in the evening. An instant trip to the tropics. Brent & Becky’s Bulbs.
1 Citrus hystrix (Thai ‘Kaffir’ Lime) Divine citrus-scented leaves for Asian cooking, especially in soups and broths. Found at Shades of Green Nursery in San Antonio and carried home on the plane.
1 Pineapple sage. Pretty red blossoms on fruit-scented leaves. Carrboro, N.C. Farmers Market. Great for tea or as a garnish for summer coolers.
1 Piper nigrum (pepper vine). Heart shaped, deeply veined leaves with small white flowers that produce aromatic spikes of immature green peppercorns. This is the vine that produces black, white and green peppercorns, but grown in a pot in our temperate climate, the peppercorns do not ripen fully. Sometimes I add the immature spikes to Asian stir fries. Yucca Do Nursery.
1 Musa Rojo (Banana) Small banana tree with endlessly unfurling burgundy-streaked leaves. Home Depot Garden Center.
2 Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ (Elephant Ear) Dark, nearly black purple stems and veins on 1’ lightly ruffled leaves. Singing Springs Nursery. Underplanted with cascading Ipomoea batatas ‘Margarita’ (chartreuse sweet potato vine)
2 Alocasia ‘Hilo Beauty’ (Elephant Ear). Lovely dark green leaves splotched with cream and celadon. Tender. Singing Springs Nursery. Underplanted with trailing Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’ (dark purple sweet potato vine).
2 Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’ (English boxwood). Carrboro, N.C. Farmers Market. Wonderful round exclamation points amongst the lush tropicals.
1 Hibiscus tree, unknown. Stunning triple ruffled dark rose blossoms on a plant that has been limbed up to a small tree. Blooms sporadically all year. Rescued from Whole Foods parking lot.
1 Agave ‘Victoria Regina’ Small agave with grey-green succulent leaves edged in white and tipped with lethal thorns. Yucca Do Nursery.
1 Zingiber officianale (edible ginger). A potted clump of very fresh Hawaiian ginger from Whole Foods. now producing leaves.
Need some of your own? Here is Pam Baggett’s list of mail order nurseries that sell tropicals and other tender plants: