Summer is time to celebrate, and all across the East End the peak season is here. It’s time to dive into all summertime has to offer. The beach beckons. There are barbecues, parties and concerts, art exhibits to see, new restaurants to try. The sultry days, warm nights and ocean breezes can feel positively tropical. You can transform your North Fork garden, deck or patio into your personal tropical paradise and capture the spirit of summer by surrounding yourself with the hot colors and exuberant lushness of tropical plants. They’re readily available at nurseries and garden centers across the East End now. These lavish beauties won’t survive the winter unless you bring them indoors or board them in a greenhouse, but they can make your summer surroundings glorious.
To get a tropical look in your summer garden, whether it’s in the ground or in pots on your deck or patio, look for lush, bold foliage and flowers in bright, hot colors. Forget soft pinks and lavenders and go for the gusto. Mix colors and textures in glorious profusion. In a bed or border in the ground, plant layers of foliage and flowers that commingle and spill together and over the edges. Another option: instead of going full-out tropical in your garden, you can mix some bold, hot tropical into your existing garden to add some drama, an exotic accent. A really easy way to do this is to place some pots of tropicals in the garden, hiding the pots behind the foliage of more permanent inhabitants. This strategy could backfire if, for instance, you decided to put some banana plants among the butterfly bushes or astilbes. But in company with brighter, bolder plants like black-eyed Susans, sunflowers or golden hostas, a shot of tropical heat could inject a welcome accent.
For your tropical garden, whether it’s in the ground or in groups of pots, look for some tall trees and shrubs for height, vines for vertical line, big leaves and bushy forms for volume, low-growing spillers and sprawlers, and let them mingle together in gleeful abandon.
Many tropical plants will thrive in our hot, humid summer weather. They’ll flourish and bloom all summer long, even into fall, until cooler weather shuts them down. If you’re a gardener, you can bring some of them indoors to a sunny spot for the winter. I did this for many years with a ficus tree, which was decked with tiny white lights until it went back to the deck in spring when the warm weather returned. Many tropical plants love the sun, but there are great choices for shady places, too. Most of them do best with even moisture, neither sopping wet nor bone dry. To be safe, don’t put them outdoors until nighttime temperatures stay above 50 degrees.
Local nurseries and garden centers are full of interesting tropical plants to liven up your garden, deck or patio. If you like the idea of twining or tendrilled vines curling around a trellis, look for passionflowers, jasmine, mandevilla (with pink or white trumpet flowers) or allamanda (with yellow ones). Morning glories and their tropical relative, the night-blooming moonflower, are also delightful.
Foliage plants are perfect for places that get some shade. Go bold with banana plants, palms and ficus for height. For the middle ground colocasia, alocasia and other elephant ears with their massive leaves add volume. Caladiums are lower growing and add shots of color with their leaves splashed with red, pink or white. Coleus are also terrific in shade, and come in a staggering array of heights, leaf shapes and color combinations. Croton has leaves accented in red or golden yellow, and can take brighter light. For flowers in a shady spot, look for tuberous begonias and fuchsias.
When your tropical paradise is in place, add some lawn chairs and a cool drink, then sit back and enjoy it!