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Tropicals Are Hot

Even though I have been gardening professionally for more than 15 years, I still feel like I have a lot to learn about gardening. Sometimes I feel like I’m a sponge just waiting for new information or techniques to soak up.

This thrust to learn drives me to attend several conferences each year that are designed to help me become a better gardener, landscape designer, and nursery professional. No matter how many years I have been attending these same conferences, I always leave with a feeling of excitement, but also with a feeling of deep obligation to do my absolute best.

When you are dealing with a living, growing, and changing garden environment, it is always a challenge to do your very best. Plants live and die, Mother Nature delivers us all sorts of weather conditions, diseases, or insect infestations, and then there is always human error. Still, every spring we are out there digging, planting, moving, and changing our gardens.

Outdoor living
The newest shift in the gardening world is that gardening is now being referred to as “outdoor living.” How do I explain this new terminology to my children? “Mommy’s going out to work in the outdoor living space before dinner”? Outdoor living sounds more like a game or a sport. Instead of inviting people over for a garden party, you might invite them over to play a few rounds of outdoor living.

All fun aside, I think it is exciting that the garden is now being seen not just as a garden, but as a more sophisticated living space. This new, fresh approach to gardening is the driving force behind all the exciting weather-resistant garden décor and furniture available. A new loveseat and chair with soft comfy outdoor cushions and pillows certainly transformed my garden space last year. My son and daughter will actually spend time outside with me now reading or relaxing while I work in the garden.

Low-maintenance tropicals
This isn’t the only trend I see taking place in our gardens. Tropical plants are all the rage. Be prepared to see more dramatic tropical plants, also referred to as houseplants, coming outside into our garden spaces in container gardens, as hanging baskets, planted with traditional annual flowers, or as an annual planting where you may have had impatiens or begonias last year.

Bromeliads, agaves, cordylines, phormiums, tropical sedums, echeverias, purple boat lilies, calamondin oranges, pomegranate, palms…the list goes on and on. You may be asking why these plants are becoming so popular now. The answer is quite simple: low maintenance.

These types of tropical plants are much easier to take care of in the heat of the summer. Traditional annuals, while tropical in origin, require constant care and maintenance throughout the summer months. The houseplant-type tropical plants respond well to heat and humidity, and are very forgiving if you forget to water them. I have also found that many of the houseplant-type tropicals are very adaptable to a variety of light levels, especially low light levels found under trees or on a covered porch or patio. What really makes them so trendy is that they bring a big sense of glamour and sophistication to the garden.

Bright bromeliads
The bromeliad seems to be at the top of the list this year. Bromeliad is the common name for a large group or family of plants called Bromeliacae. There are many different genera or species in this group, and it can get quite confusing. I am still learning to identify them individually. Most bromeliads have a rosette of leaves or foliage, and absorb most of their water and nutrients through their leaves instead of their roots.

For many bromeliads, the bright striking flowers are really not flowers at all but brightly colored leaves on what I will incorrectly call a flower stalk. The true flowers are typically tiny and can also be quite colorful. They emerge from the colorful leafy stalk and last for only a short time, while the colored leaves or colored leafy stalks can last for several months. Many times the true flowers go unnoticed completely.

Each rosette will flower only once but will send off many side-plant shoots. After many months, the main stalk of showy colorful leaves will begin to wither and the main plant will eventually die. The side shoots will grow on and flower when mature. Many people at this point, or at the end of our growing season, will simply discard this plant and purchase a new one.

Spring always arrives right on time, and fortunately the garden always gives us a second chance to start over, no matter what happened in the past. A new spring is always an opportunity to celebrate our successes, rethink our mistakes, re-evaluate or plan, have a change of heart, or simply change nothing at all. Call it whatever you want—gardening or outdoor living—I call it a lot of fun.

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