Tropical Garden Plants

Tropicals heat up the garden with lush foliage and a fearless color palette

Tropical plants bring to mind the sultry rainforests along the Equator, but the exotic frost-tender treasures on this page are steaming up modern gardens right here at home, and nothing revives a heat-exhausted summer landscape quite like the lush foliage and fearless color palette of tropical plants. Tropicals tend to have big, over-the-top personalities, bordering on quippy caricature. Elephant ears (Colocasia and Alocasia) create big, exaggerated leafy backdrops while dahlias, canna and calla lilies dot the landscape in flourishes of crayon-colored flowers in shades of sunny yellow, flamingo pink, or fiery red, to name a few.

But don’t despair if your garden isn’t large enough to contain all this lush loveliness and don’t fret if you don’t live in Zones 7 or higher (although some dahlias are cold hardy to Zone 3). You can create a tropical balcony or patio garden by filling a few portable pots with these bright color-patterned leaves or frolicsome flowers. Just move the pots indoors at the end of the season before the temperature begins to drop or dig up the bulbs, store them in a cool, dark, dry location, and replant next year. But whether in a container or a courtyard garden, in full sun or shade, these jungle gems sizzle in seductive vignettes that just may whisk you off to faraway lands in your own tropical paradise.