Sunday, April 27, 2008

Feeling brave?

I'm a big advocate of using native (or nearly native) plants in your garden - less fuss, greater certainty of reward. But I'm a bit of a gardening wimp, so if you are looking for a bigger horticultural challenge than nasturtiums, astilbe and foxglove you might want to read our new book by Susan Roth and Dennis Schrader. Hot Plants for Cool Climates: gardening with tropical plants in temperate zones gives gardeners in less-than-balmy regions good advice on how to select, cultivate, maintain and protect showy tropical plants. Goodness knows Ketchikan has the precipitation to rival the equatorial areas - our biggest drawback is that it never gets very warm. The authors take a particularly crafty approach to this problem. Rather than use actual tropical plants, they suggest using hardy plants with tropical-looking features: hostas, ferns, mallow, bamboo, elephant ears and goatsbeard. Once you've created a lush background with these foliage plants (all of which I have seen growing in Ketchikan, by the way), you sprinkle in some showy flowers - azaleas, lilies, begonias, fuchsias, and impatiens, for example - to add some color. In addition to their design suggestions, the authors also give you advice on fertilization, wintering plants, putting together containers and pairing plants for the greatest visual impact. With a little creativity, you could have your own little tropical island in the middle of the Tongass rainforest. Save a mai-tai for me!

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