Of late, I’ve gotten a number of emails from blog readers all asking the same question – What are some inexpensive ways for me to get an exotic, tropical look quickly with landscaping around my pool? – or some variation of this. Of course, I encourage them to get the backyard resorts ebook, but I do try to provide some ideas, even if they don’t.
Since I’ve gotten this question a number of times, I thought I’d toss out some of my ideas, and would encourage our subscribers to throw out some of their own ideas. Let’s turn this into an idea exchange that we all might benefit from!
So, here’s the set up – assume someone has a new swimming pool, or one that has little or no landscaping and wants to start creating their own backyard resort, on the cheap and they want some quick impact. I’m going to assume here that buying a reasonably sized hardy palm or two is not in the budget. What should they do? Here are 5 ideas I’d suggest:
Bananas. They are about as tropical looking as it gets and will make an immediate impact. Establish groupings around the pool. Don’t line them up in straight rows! For those of you that have the Backyard Resorts Ebook, you know that, for better or worse, I’m all about a more wild, untamed look, not a formal, tidy look. Bananas are readily available in garden centers (or on Ebay), reasonably inexpensive, easy to grow, and grow really fast if you plant them properly and give them plenty of food and water.
Cannas. Use these as borders, between your bananas and other taller plants. Bengal Tiger and Tropicana are a couple of really flamboyant varieties, but my favorite is a large purple variety that I’ve yet to identify. Not as flashy, but it holds up better in the brutal summer heat here in Dallas. Experiment … there are lots of options, and they are inexpensive and very easy to grow.
Castor Bean. This is just one of my favorite plants, and is an incredibly exotic looking large specimen plant. You can learn more about it in this article I posted a while back. It grows from seed to 15-20 feet tall every year for me and is stunning to look at. There are green (biggest), red, and grey varieties. You can get seeds on Ebay for next to nothing. Once you grow it once, you’ll have all the seeds you’ll ever need. Fair Warning – the plant and its seeds are poisonous if eaten.
Containers with flamboyant flowering plants. I know, attractive pots can get pricey, but there are inexpensive options out there. Tropical hibiscus, plumeria, bougainvilla, mandevilla, and Angel trumpet are some real show stoppers in pots. Create mixed plantings of varying colors and textures. See this article I posted a while back on container ideas.
Ornamental Grasses. This idea often gets overlooked in my opinion. The linear form of ornamental grasses contrasts beautifully with large leafed plants like bananas and Cannas, and create an airy, seaside look and feel. Pampas Grass is great if you have the space, but can get huge, up to 7 feet. Maiden Grass is medium (up to 3 feet) and is beautiful in any kind of a breeze. Aztec Grass or Purple fountain grass, with their beautiful colors, contrast beautifully with almost any green plant. Most are readily available and reasonably inexpensive.
Of course, if the budget is there, you have to be thinking one or more hardy palms but, if not, the ideas above will get you started without big bucks. What other ideas do you have?
I had some friends hanging out at the pool today, and got a lot of questions about some of the plants I’m using in pots. For those of you who have gotten the Backyard Resorts Ebook, you know I advocate a layered approach to build your backyard resort. Start with the base foundation, add the tropical foundation, then the tropical flash, and finally the finishing touches. The more I refine my approach, the more I think containers fit in the tropical flash AND finishing touches category.
The containers themselves can make a big statement if you want them to. You could go for a purely Caribbean look, or spice things up with an old-world Roman or Greek look. There are all kinds of possibilities. But, let’s talk plants here … container plants that will really make a statement for your tropical backyard resort ….
Tropical Hibiscus. I know, I know … everyone already knows this one, but it is simply not optional. It’s hard to think of a more reliable flamboyant flowering plant. The fun here is that there are hundreds of varieties, all kinds of sizes, colors, and textures. Look for some of the wilder colors … think bright ORANGE … it exists. Your local big box home and garden center may not have them, but other specialty brick and mortar and online nurseries will for sure. I treat these as annuals as they’ve always been very slow to come back if I try to overwinter.
Plumeria. Think Hawaiian Lei flowers. Like Hibiscus, there are many varieties and lots of colors. I have a candy stripe variety that is a show stopper. A couple of years ago, mail order was the only way to get plumeria, but now I see them at my Home Depot, although they seem to be a bit pricey. You can find many varieties sold on ebay even. I’ve grown mine from 12” cuttings to multiple 6ft tall plants. Now, I can propagate my own. Even though the pots are big, I make the effort to bring mine into the garage before the first freeze. It’s well worth it.
Angel Trumpet. Here’s another one that I used to have to mail order, now I see them regularly in garden centers, although they can be pricey too. This one is a real show stopper with its huge 1 foot long trumpet shaped flowers. I have yellows, but there are many colors available. And another little bonus … the flowers have an eerie, but very pleasant, scent. The quirky thing is that they only put their fragrance at night and put it out, they do! Just ask your neighbors. Use a good sized pot as they can get top heavy. Shade and lots of water for this one. Like my plumerias, I bring these into the garage to overwinter. They come back quite nicely.
Canna, Tropicana or Bengal Tiger variety. I have cannas in the ground all over the place at my backyard resort, but I like to use these two varieties in pots. Both are very flamboyant and flashy and can really make a statement. Maybe it’s just me or the terrible soil we have here, but Tropicana cannas in the ground tend to bleach out in the late summer here, and not look so great. Not so in containers. I just keep watered and they keep putting on a show until frost.
Bougainvilla. OK, I know this beasty has those nasty thorns and can be a hassle to tame, but what a show it can put on. I have never been able to get bougainvilla to bloom reliably in the ground here, but in good sized containers …. Wow! Don’t overfeed or overwater as they guys seem to thrive on a little stress. Again, lots of different colors available, but I like the bright reds. I treat mine as annuals just because I don’t have room to overwinter everything. They are very fast growers anyway, and inexpensive.
Bonus. Go to the houseplant section of your favorite garden or home improvement center. You know, there is really no such thing as a house plant, right? Plants want to be outside. I would say 90% of the houseplants are understory tropicals. Put them in pots on the patio or other shaded areas, and just watch. They’ll grow twice as fast and look twice as good as they would if you had them in your living room.
There you have it, some of my favorite container plants to play with. Join the conversation. What container plants do you use to make a statement in your Backyard Resort?