Atlanta has hot summers and most people have swimming pools to cool off. A tropical garden is an ideal landscape that seems to fit those hot steamy summer days. However, Atlanta is really on the border of being tropical and many coastal tropical plants cannot survive the cool winters that occur in Northern Georgia. The good news is that some of them will, including banana trees.
A tropical feel to a garden can be achieved by making your selection of plants from large leaved species, hardy palm species, tropical vines, and colorful annuals. If you have limited space you will want to restrict the larger plants to just one or two along with some annuals to fill the space out. Larger areas can mix a variety of leaf color as well as textures to make an interesting landscape. Below are a selection of plants that do well in the Atlanta region, although some may have bulbs that need to be lifted.
This perhaps is not at the top of everyone’s list, but in recent years they have become quite popular. Most grow quickly each year to create a screen that can be as high as twelve feet. In the wrong place this screen will restrict sunlight to your garden, but in a corner, it can create a nice backdrop to lower plants. Cut back the bamboo each year to allow new growth to grow, and trim back any runners that are escaping where you want them. Look for bright green varieties that clump, or try the newer strains of dark bamboo that can be dramatic in the landscape.
Elephant Ears that you find on the market, have a variety of latin names, and characteristics so make sure that you not how big the one you are buying gets. Large dramatic green plants or dark velvety looking leaves are easy to find on the market. The tubers from Elephant Ears will need to be stored inside for winter and re-sprouted early next year for a stunning show all summer. Leaving the tubers in the ground over winter will probably not kill them, but it does take a few weeks longer for the ground to warm enough so that they break dormancy.
This is another very large leaf plant that is similar to the Elephant Ears. The leave are generally more wrinkled and this plant gets larger than most Elephant Ears.
Most productive bananas are not hardy to Atlanta, but few are. Mesa basjoo is one of the hardy one. These terrific plants have large leaves, to three feet long, that grow up the stem. Total height of this banana is about eight feet, so give it plenty of room. A dwarf banana tree, Dwarf Orinoca Banana, is said to be both very productive and hardy, and an attractive purple leaf tree, Mesa hookeri, is also said to be borderline hardy. In the northern suburbs this would need to be in a protected spot, maybe near a south facing wall.
These rather interested plants have dramatic flowers on them in late summer. The colors can vary from orange to white, with many shades in between. The overall leaves on the plant are not over large, but within a few weeks from breaking dormancy, this plant will take on the appearance of a large shrub. This is great for a statement plant in a corner, or along a walkway. Particularly dramatic is a stand on a raised bed alongside a driveway.
Is another group of plants when you need to know which one you are growing, because most eucalyptus are not hardy to our area. One that I have seen growing well despite being out of its growth zone, is a Silver Dollar Eucalyptus. The specimen I saw was not protected, but I would recommend that it is if you try it at home. As most of the sources are from Australia or the Northwest, this would be a trial and error plant, but worth it if you really like the look.
Another variable group is Palm Trees which are synonymous with gulf coast gardens. A very few can be grown in Atlanta. One is the Sabal Palm which will grow in our zone. This palm is also known as the Cabbage Palm and forms a small tree topped by green growth. Several palms are hardy to zone 8 which includes inner city areas and southern suburbs plus protected northern suburbs in most winters. These include Brahea, Sabal and Trachcapus palms.
Other perennials that can be grown include lantana and the large variety of cannas that are available everywhere.
Passion Flower is an early summer flowering vine that produces pretty purple flowers. This is not an aggressive vine so make sure that it doesn’t get tangled with other vines such as ivy or wisteria. Silvervein creeper is another vine that flowers all summer with bright red flowers.
There are many annual vines that you can grow to augment your tropical look. Bright red of cardinal creeper and the yellow of Black-Eyed Susan vine will both go well and flower all summer.
The large leaves of tropical plants, plus dark colors need to be offset with some lighter colors which can be provided by annual plants. Petunias come in bright colors that go will with most tropical landscapes and they will creep around under the large leaves, covering the edge of the flowerbed and accentuating the tropical feel.
"Faith sees a beautiful blossom in a bulb, a lovely garden in a seed, and a giant oak in an acorn." William Arthur Ward
Botanica Atlanta Landscape Design 2870 Peachtree Road NE #231, Atlanta GA 30305 404.641.3960