A tropical garden can feel lush and exotic, and make you feel like you’re on vacation, especially if you live in Canada. Having a tropical garden can feel like a dream if you live in Ontario or parts of Canada with harsh winters. Luckily, it’s not impossible. With a bit of thought, planning and creativity you can have the tropical garden of your dreams.
To create your tropical garden, choose plants with a variety of foliage sizes, shapes and colours. Huge, lush leaves and foliage can easily make your Canadian garden feel more tropical. There are four types of overwintering you should consider when planning your garden. Perennials suitable to your climate zone will the hardiest and easiest to care for. Some perennials for more temperate zones can be overwintered outdoors with insulation and extra care. These can be showstoppers. Some other plants can be overwintered indoors as dormant rootstock, then replanted outdoors once the danger of frost is past. Many cold sensitive plants can be grown as potted plants, and moved indoors for the winter.
Another easy to grow tropical perennial is bamboo. It will add lots of height to your garden, and can even remain evergreen in mild winters. However, a word of caution; some bamboo varieties can become invasive and take over, so it’s important to choose clumping varieties if you’re planting directly in the garden. Bamboo can grow in full to part sun, and can grow thick and high, making it great for creating shady areas or blocking an unwanted view. Fountain bamboo (Fargesia nitida) is an easy to grow variety that will grow to about 3 metres high.
Start with perennials that will overwinter well in your climate. These will be the easiest to grow, as they will come back year after year with minimal maintenance. Hostas, ferns and lilies are great plants to start with. Adding giant hostas will immediately give a more tropical feel to your space. Add different sizes and foliage colours to create interest.
Some plants that don’t traditionally overwinter in Canadian climates can overwinter outside with some extra care. Growing plants like the hardy Japanese Banana Musa bajoo can instantly give your garden a lush, jungle feel. These bananas won’t flower or produce fruit, due to the short growing season, but the long and tall leaves will look the same as banana trees growing on any tropical resort. In the fall, these plants will need to be cut down to the base of the stem and insulated against the winter cold. Once the possibility of frost damage is past, the insulation can be removed and the plant will re-grow.
If indoor plant space is limited, choosing plants that overwinter as dormant rootstock will be important. Elephant ear (Colocasia esculenta), with its giant leaves,can be grown outdoors during the warmer months, either in pots or planted directly in the soil. Once the leaves start to brown in the fall, the stems should be cut to about 15 cm long, and the plant should be dug up. Brush the soil off the roots, and bring indoors and store in peat moss or sawdust in a ventilated container. Canna lilies can also be grown the same way, and come in a variety of foliage colours and sizes.
Finally, potted plants that can be brought indoors can complete your tropical garden. Keep in mind how much indoor storage space you have when purchasing plants that can grow to a large size or height. You may also want to harden these plants off to changing temperatures and sun. If so, make sure you can easily move the plant and pot inside and out for a period of time. If the plant is too tall for your regular doorway, when you’re hardening it off, keep it in the garage and you can open the big door to move it in and out every day. Potted palms, hibiscus, bird of paradise, anthurium, and fiddle leaf figs are all stunning potted plants.
It may seem like a lot of work, but having a tropical garden in Canada is totally worth it. With a bit of planning and the right plants, you could be sitting in your own tropical oasis next gardening season.