Anticipation in My Tropical Landscape

If patience is the food that fortifies gardeners in a journey to botanical bliss, anticipation is the blend of savory spices that pulls us out of bed every morning with the promise of inevitable progress.  I often have dreams in which I awaken years later to come upon my garden complete with a mature canopy of trees and an understory jam packed with gingers and bromeliads.  Its often hard to see the potential in plants without a little imagination and optimism.  For example, look at how my clump of Alocasia "California" has grown!  Please pardon all the crappy cell phone shots.

This is the planting site a little over two years ago, before the alocasia was planted as a 3 gallon plant from Lowes.

After flourishing for a little over a year, the record breaking winter ended up killing all the leaves and even damaging the stems.

This is the clump at present, in mid July.  It is now up to my nose.

Here is an eye level view from behind the clump.  Why don't more people grow this around here?

Since I live thirty to forty minutes away from my parent's house, I'll often go a week or so without witnessing the drama of my plants unfold.  Sometimes when I come back to the garden everything has already changed: Trees have grown taller, bananas have put out new leaves, and vines have taken claim over new territories.  The downside is that when a plant is struggling, its often too late to save it from pests or drought and all I see is a withered form stretched out over the soil or a present from my dog right in the cup of a bromeliad.  However, everything fills back in before you know it, and you learn to pick plants that grow taller than your dog's legs.

This is what the garden along my fence looked like a little over a year ago in early spring.  I have since pulled up the creeping fig under the birdbath just in case it gets a little too vigorous.  Notice the little tabebuia tree to the left.  The other trees such as bottlebrush and weeping yaupon holly are to the left and right of this scene.

Now look at the explosion of growth taking place right now! The firespike, gingers, pentas and tibouchina have returned, the tabebuia in the back is growing like crazy, and there are some new faces too!  Heliconia "Costa Flores" overwintered from last fall, and a purple crinum forms a focal point in the middle. The trees will, in time, form a protective canopy over the understory but by anticipating that happening I've made sure that the understory also thrives in shade. 

The back corner is frequently flooded, so anticipating this, I planted everglades palm, false cardamom ginger, philodendron and ti plant, and all of which have proven to handle wet feet in my garden.  Behind those I planted trees over the last couple of years.  Three native yellow anise trees will provide evergreen foliage and a shady canopy, while a native weeping yaupon holly ties in with the other two I have planted elsewhere in the backyard.  I also have three bottlebrushes in the backyard, as well as one in the front.  I'm aiming for consistency, so that I can create a more believable "forest" by the time it matures. 

The most important plants in my garden are trees, if only for their obvious role in what we perceive as a "rainforest".  I could have all sorts of tropical plants in the landscape, but it would be pointless without that extra vertical dimension to add mystery and depth; to make the visitor anticipate what's around the corner.  If everything was laid out in flat and static beds without any curves or obstruction to our view, what would be there to satisfy our curiosity?

Often the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is curiosity.  I rejoice over every new leaf that opens on my balcony, and I check for new stems or germinated seeds every day, as if missing the event would make me wonder all day.  Its not a necessity to do these things, just a daily affirmation of the insistence of life to continue growing.  To those of you who feel that every day is a repeat of the last hundred mundane ones, I recommend watching a plant and recording its growth even if only as an afterthought on the way out the door or on your lunch break.  Just be sure to pick something that won't get hacked down like a hedge or a crape myrtle, because let me tell you, that gets depressing.

An agapanthus bloom stands guard over the entrance to the forest.  What lies beyond?


  1. aloha steve,

    wow, what a transformation, looks so lush and i'm sure in no time you'll be getting a jungle soon, it looks like your tropical paradise is coming along quite nicely

  2. Anticipation is indeed a wonderful thing, and that Alocasia...WOW. Amazing.

  3. Your garden is doing very well now. The lush and green alocasia is an attraction now. I do agree that the garden is never boring as it changes every minute of the day, especially when it supports wildlife.

  4. Its so good to see the before and after images of your garden. Its an inspiration for someone (like me?) who is still in the middle of trying to build a garden from scratch.

  5. You are such a wonderful writer. I just love reading your thoughts and seeing your garden! You have such passion and you can feel it in all everything you say. I love all of your variety...and it is getting all so lush!!!

  6. I absolutely love your yard! The tropical plants are what I miss from Florida. That is why I am into the cold hardy tropicals here in Kentucky. Keep it up! What part of FL are you in?


  7. Hi Steve
    Ah, Alocasia "California" - now I know the name finally. I see it a lot in Malaysia but not in residential gardens - they are just too big for small patches of gardens. I love them a lot.

    You sure have a nice yard to play in. It is looking great too.

  8. My fence still looks like yours did last year. I'm waiting, waiting for what it will look like in a year. The growth in your garden encourages me that mine will grow as much as yours in a year also.

  9. I agree with you that the garden brings new joy every single day. There's always something new going on. Folks who aren't gardeners sure do miss a lot of beauty and wonder in life. Your 'California' alocasia is the unique shape of the leaves and the chartreuse green color. How interesting that you dream about how your garden looks in the future. A sure sign of good things to come.

  10. Noel: Thanks! By the way, I'm still struggling with the folks at csn to get that gift card to you. They're wanting me to change my html to make it more searchable...

    danger garden: I know! Isn't it great?

    Autumn belle: I think that the alocasia is my favorite plant in the garden. Its such a great focal point!

    Solitude Rising: I guess the whole point of this blog is to provide some inspiration, but coming from you that means a lot. I can't wait to see how it all turns out.

    Julie: That is by far the nicest compliment I can recall in some time. I actually started the blog to eventually move toward writing a book by the same name, so your words give me a lot of motivation. Thank you so much!

    nefp: I'm in Jacksonville and you're from jax too, aren't you? I can't wait to see what you do to protect your tropicals in winter up there in Kentucky. I'm here if you need any advice on overwintering!

    Evelyn: It is getting pretty big, but I can always dig up the suckers if I have too. Its encouraging that you see it in Malaysia, since Southeast Asia is botanically, artistically, culturally and culinarinally (is that a word?) my favorite region.

    Rhonda: I like your blog! I think that the key to filling in an area like my fence is to plant some evergreen shrubs and trees. That way you still have greenery and privacy in winter, and the tropicals get shade and protection too!

    Susan: I'm really lucky to have so many interests! Because I also get to read up on weather, art, architecture, history, etc. there's always something worth noticing.

  11. That agapanthus is beautiful! Mine seem to be done blooming for the year. : ( Your elephant ears are looking splendid and full as well. Your tab tree is looking good too. Mine has grown to about twelve feet tall and nearly as wide in only three years. Very fast-growing. Unfortunately, I can now see it's way too big for its site. I do know the joy of watching all the little changes that happen every day in the garden. It is never the same, from clumping plants and new blooms to pupping broms and winged visitors. Every morning, there is something new to get excited about. Good to see your garden has had such a great recovery from winter.

  12. Have you thought about foregoing the lawan completely? We got rid of 90% of the lawn in our backyard and have never regretted it. Our pool area keeps us from having a jungle in the yard, but the opportunity to use plants of different heights, secret pathways and perhaps a pond in your space really opens your options in creating a truly unique space. Our garden was inspired by a stay at a little hotel in Key West. I don't remember its name, but it was a small hotel, one story in height, with units built around a pool (best of all - clean and cheap!). The landscaping went right up to the pool deck - no lawn. Intrigued, we went home and replicated their landscape model in our yard. All we need now is some of our palms to get big. At first we were hesitant to get rid of the lawn - now we love it.

    The space you have available really opens up many options. Just a thought...

  13. Your alocasia looks great. I bought 4 a year and a half ago. A local nursery was clearing them out...great price. They don't seem to be getting very tall. I just read that they do better with a lot of water. Do you water yours a lot?

    Your garden looks great! There is nothing better than taking a walk first thing in the morning to see the changes from the day before.

  14. Thanks for showing these before and afters. Your explanation of your plant choices is so helpful to my own planting pursuits. The layers, canopy and understory, are great ideas in full display in your garden.

  15. Yes it is, Matt. You're not fooling anyone.

  16. Floridagirl:
    I'm glad your tab is also doing well. Maybe you could limb it up if its too small for its spot, so that it branches out higher up!

    El Jardin:
    I wish that I could do away with the lawn but money is only one of the restraints. It was like pulling teeth to convince my parents to plant as much as I have to begin with! They would rather just have the grass, but I assure you that when I have my own garden its going to be a livable paved space, kind of like a botanical garden or a courtyard. I've been to some pretty cute bed and breakfasts in south Florida too and they've also provided a lot of inspiration.

    My alocasia is in constantly moist soil at the edge of a swamp that gets flooded in the rainy season. Now its roots must be so deep that even the dry soil at the surface doesn't effect it.

    I guess when I go on my hikes the most thrilling sensation is realizing the three dimensionality of the forest with its different levels and surprises around the corner. Hopefully I'll emulate that in time!

  17. I have lived everywhere and I have lived here in Lexington before I moved to Jax. I am now back but with more tropical exploration. I thought you might be in Jax.

    Here is my landscape in Jax:


  18. You have a wonderful piece of property that backs up to woods. That is really nice. I think you are creating quite the tropical little paradise there where you are.



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