Bring­ing the trop­ics home

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Leisure - HOLLY KERR FORSYTH

IF you’ve ever hol­i­dayed in a trop­i­cal part of the world, where palm trees bend over pris­tine white sands and a clear sea is aqua­ma­rine, you’ve prob­a­bly dreamed of trans­plant­ing par­adise to your own back­yard. While the flam­boy­ant torch gin­gers, heli­co­nias and gin­gers may re­mind you of sun, surf and sand, many de­mand the high rain­fall and tem­per­a­tures ex­pe­ri­enced only in the north­ern parts of this coun­try.

There are some species that will per­form well in cooler cli­mates, how­ever, to al­low you to re-cre­ate that re­laxed and happy at­mos­phere in a gar­den of in­tense fra­grance, gen­er­ous fo­liage and clash­ing colours.

Top of the list for south­ern gar­dens might be the gor­geous blue gin­ger, Di­cho­risan­dra thyr­si­flora. Na­tive to South Amer­ica, this plant is not a gin­ger at all but, rather, re­lated to the trades­cant­ias or spi­der­worts. It reaches more than 1m in height and bears stun­ning, bright blue spikes through sum­mer, au­tumn and into early win­ter. It’s easy to grow well and eas­ily prop­a­gated with cut­tings or di­vi­sions once flow­er­ing is over: you can plant sec­tions straight into the ground. It looks fab­u­lous be­hind the new, bril­liantly coloured can­nas, with their pad­dle-like fo­liage splashed with the colours of a trop­i­cal dawn.

Try Canna ‘Trop­i­cana’ with its red and orange leaves, or ‘Ben­gal Tiger’, which is striped in greens, creams and yel­low; cut them right back to the ground in win­ter. You could em­ploy, in­stead, the gi­ant calla lily, or ele­phant’s ear (Alo­ca­sia macr­or­rhiza), which sports gen­er­ous, arrow-shaped leaves on 1m-long stalks. The flow­ers are like those of the arum lily and have a faint scent.

The gor­geous me­dinil­las, with their pleated, leath­ery fo­liage and cas­cades of pink and pur­ple flow­ers like hang­ing bunches of tiny grapes, flower for months in my Syd­ney gar­den, al­though they are na­tive to South­east Asia.

From a genus of about 300 species of shrubs and climbers, some of which are epi­phytic, Me­dinilla myr­i­antha is hardly with­out a bloom. Again, it is easy to prop­a­gate from cut­tings.

The peace lily (Spathiphyl­lum spp.), from trop­i­cal South Amer­ica and parts of the Far East, will mass out help­fully in dap­pled shade in warm tem­per­ate cli­mates where it can en­joy sum­mer hu­mid­ity. Then it will flower for months with white spathes atop tall stems. Cut back un­tidy fo­liage to main­tain a fresh, trop­i­cal look. Or choose An­thurium scherz­e­ri­anum, which re­ally de­serves its com­mon name: flamingo flow­ers. Add them to other hot colours, per­haps back­ing them with a mass plant­ing of a low grow­ing soft palm such as the lady palm ( Rhapis hu­milis) in a shady court­yard. They speak of the trop­ics even in a tem­per­ate cli­mate. They love hu­mid­ity and mois­ture, but also de­mand good drainage as well as morn­ing sun.

Next you’ll want to con­sider ground­cov­ers in your trop­i­cal de­sign. Most of the spi­der­worts ( Trades­cantia spp., also known as rhoeo) are very use­ful. Trades­cantia pal­l­ida ‘Pur­ple Heart’ teams well with the bright colours suited to the clear light of warm cli­mates. Prop­a­gate it eas­ily by just break­ing off a piece and plac­ing it in the ground.

If you need hedges in your trop­i­cal-look gar­den you might se­lect the can­dy­coloured ixo­ras. A genus of about 400 species of trop­i­cal shrubs, ixo­ras have at­trac­tive glossy leaves; an ex­ten­sive range of hy­brids flower in reds, pinks, yel­lows, or­anges and whites. They are frost-ten­der and de­mand rich but well drained soil. Try the large-leaved Ixora ‘Malay Pink’ planted be­hind a smaller I. ‘Lit­tle Willy’. And they look par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive when planted with hi­bis­cus: go mad with colour!

If it’s fo­liage rather than flow­ers you need in your par­adise, think about cro­tons ( Co­di­aeum spp.), a genus of about 15 species of ever­green shrubs grown mostly for their in­tri­cately marked leaves. They like plenty of wa­ter and food in the sum­mer grow­ing sea­son. Co­di­aeum var­ie­ga­tum, which comes in a range of brightly marked cul­ti­vars, can be clipped hard, per­haps to mir­ror or high­light the shape of a build­ing, or to cre­ate a line of de­fence in a windswept coastal gar­den.

Of all the trees that speak of hot days, balmy nights and easy liv­ing, the lovely, dome-shaped poin­ciana ( Delonix re­gia) is one of the most cov­eted. Na­tive to Mada­gas­car, it grows to about 10m in height and 15m in width, stretch­ing out its el­e­gant arms with their feath­ery, bright green fo­liage, and bear­ing gor­geous ver­mil­lion, or­chid-like flow­ers. It de­mands warm sum­mer rain, well-drained soil and only flow­ers north of north­ern NSW.

Don’t de­spair, how­ever: if you gar­den fur­ther south, you can achieve a sim­i­lar ef­fect with the silk tree, Al­bizia julib­rissin.

And for those of us who grew up in the trop­ics, the ca­lypso colours of hi­bis­cus will al­ways trans­port us back to our child­hood. Fol­low daily gar­den tips and tricks on twit­­lyk­er­forsyth. Holly Kerr Forsyth’s new book, Sea­sons in My House and Gar­den, is out now.


Me­dinilla and blue gin­ger will per­form well in cooler cli­mates

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