How I Created a Tropical Style Garden on the Canadian Prairie

North West Garden

[Reposted from my archived blog]

I'm a tropical girl.  And as a tropical girl, I must have a tropical garden, surrounding a 1-story ranch-style house, in Hawai'i.  Of course.

Well, I don't live in Hawai'i, my house is a 2-story Tudor style stucco'd monstrosity, and I'm in the Great White North that is Zone 3.  Remember the Canadian city that in 2013 was reported to be colder than the surface of Mars?  Yeah, that's this place.

Anyone in their right mind would say "screw it", throw their garden dreams out the window, and plant daisies, tall prairie grass, and purple coneflowers as far as the eye can see... or at least until the edge of their property line.

However, since I'm EXTREMELY stubborn, and not entirely in my right mind, I didn't do any of that.
Instead, ...

Characteristics of a Tropical Garden

... I scoured through some of my old photos from my grandmother's home in The Philippines as well as from the time that I lived in Hawai'i, looking for things that made the background flora different.  Common traits became obvious...

1:  Large leaves
- We don't have the climate for palm trees.  But we have the climate for other larger leaved plants... the larger the leaves, the better.

2:  Large, brightly coloured flowers
- We're talking flowers similar to roses.  Large roundish petals.  Wavy petals.  The showier and more brazen the flowers, the better.  Yes, brazen -- have you seen Bearded Irises?  Hello, slutty flower.
Avoid daisies and the like.  They are too pure and innocent.

3:  Spiky leaves, ferns, and grasses
- When flowers die off, the tropical garden maintains excitement in a different, less suggestive way.  Textures and contrasts on the greenery left behind is just as interesting.

4:  Variegated leaves
- Just step into any gardening store and you'll find a surprising variety of plants with beautiful colours in stripes, streaks, and patches.  My favourite is yellow-green... almost neon.  I also have 3 purple leaved plants in the very front whose name I don't remember, but they're a beautiful contrast to the green.

5:  Dense foliage
- The plants are packed close together.  Super crowded and lush.

Choosing Plants

Next, I consulted the magic knowledge box Google and searched for plants that fit the above description and...

1) Were perennials in Zone 3.
- Annuals need to be shopped for at the beginning of the growing season, and cleaned up or brought into the home afterward.  I don't want to have to spend any money if I don't have to.
Plants magically appear in the Spring?!  Fine by me!  Yay, perennials!

2)  Could thrive in partial shade.

- The 2-story Tudor style stucco'd monstrosity that is my home casts a big shadow on my poor north-facing gardens for a good portion of the day.

3)  Were able to handle dryness.
- I'm a low-maintenance kind of gal.  Sometimes I don't get around to watering.  I've come to accept that.

I found all the plants I needed!  And now my gardening is so simple.

Plants I Used in My Garden

1:  Large leaves...
- Bergenia, Hosta (various)

2:  Large brightly coloured flowers...
- Peony, Daylilies (various), Irises

3:  Spiky leaves and grasses
- Ferns, Irises, Daylilies (various)

4:  Variegated leaves
- Hosta (various), Lemony Lace Elderberry (the yellow-green bush), unnamed purple-leaved plant.

My Garden History

Because sometimes you need to look like a disaster first, here's a peek into what my garden looked like over the years...
I Heart My Frontyard Garden
I Heart My Frontyard Garden June 2008
More Confessions of a Happy Girl 

As you can see, you don't need tropical plants or a tropical climate to have a tropical garden.
Okay, so it's not Hawai'i or the Philippines, but it actually makes me feel like I'm there.
Try it yourself, and share your pics in the comments if you do!

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