A Tropical Update

While we look to the tropics and wait to see what the latest hurricane brings I think a trip to the milder side is in order.  The Pennsylvania tropics are much calmer and even-keeled and if you ignore the heavy hand of winter’s approach I think it’s a nice enough retreat from everything else going on.

tropical garden

The tropical border this summer.  The steady rains were a plus but the cooler temperatures held many a hot-blooded plant back.

Even though things were in the ground earlier than ever this year the cool weather made for a slow start.  I even lost nearly all the dahlias when my “big patch of ’em” idea didn’t go well with the “all the water drains here” reality.  Losing plants to an excess of water is not something I’ve ever experienced here on this thin-soiled hilltop.  Fortunately there’s always a backup plan.

tropical garden

The striped leaves of ‘Bengal Tiger’ canna rank as one of my all time favorite plants.  To me they seem to go well with everything, especially the purple verbena bonariensis and surviving dahlias.

Verbena.  Verbena bonariensis is my backup plan for nearly every plant fiasco/disaster.  Any unmulched sunny spot quickly sprouts a few seedlings and all this gardener has to do is stand back.  If anything they need thinning since they  come up thick and look much better when each has some space of their own.

alcazar kniphofia

This might be my most promising red hot poker.  Kniphofia ‘Alcazar’ has nice big spikes with just the right glow factor.  Last year there were only two flower stalks which faded in a week or two, but this year three flushes of flowerings kept the plant interesting for almost two months.  I hope it wasn’t a fluke!

I do tend to let things just happen.  Laziness and distraction can do that to a garden, and the far end of the tropical border is mostly foliage.

tropical garden

Leaves aren’t all that bad.  Having a spot where color is not entirely in your face is probably a good idea.

The mulch which I smothered this end of the bed with must have contained some leftover autumn decorations so the coleus I planted ended up being smothered by the climbing vines of Yugoslavian finger squash.  They seemed to love all the rain and vines slinked and slithered all through the back of the border.

yugoslavian finger squash

There’s something about the name ‘Yugoslavian finger squash’ which I think is funny.  Yugoslavian?  The finger?  Finger squash?  It’s like a teenage boy came up with the name and I guess it speaks volumes for my maturity level.   

So while we await our Finger squash decorating bonanza the rest of the border is busy with the bees and butterflies who take advantage of the color.

monarch on verbena

With any luck this year’s Monarch migration will be a big one, and I hope I left enough verbena to keep them around for a few days. 

I’m hoping things work out well for a big Monarch migration this autumn.  A few years ago there was a trifecta of beautiful weather, plenty of butterflies, and loads of verbena blossoms and walking through the fluttering garden was almost surreal.  Thinking back on it I really feel bad for those people who hire landscape companies, spray for any wildlife which gets too close, and then stare at lawn all summer.  Holy boring.


At three or four inches long Katydids are an insect you can have a conversation with.  People go on about bees and butterflies but these guys are my favorites… even if they do eat decent sized chunks out of the purple canna leaves.

The tropical garden is not boring.

tropical garden

Too much?  Stripes on stripes was not the plan but somehow ‘Tropicana’ ended up in front of ‘Cosmopolitan’ fountain grass.  It should look even more tasteful in another few weeks when the grass puts out its pink flower heads.

Hope a good weekend is had by all and a little boring can extend down to the areas in the path of hurricane Irma.  The tropics look much better when not ravaged by obscene winds.

17 comments on “A Tropical Update

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Your tropical garden is a lovely relief from seeing such ripped to shreds. Finger squash. First I have heard of this no matter where they are from. Have a great weekend.

    • bittster says:

      I hope the actual tropics make a rapid recovery and return to their almost paradise condition before we know it. It’s a good thing plants grow so fast down there. Recovery for the other inhabitants will unfortunately take much more time.

  2. Thank you, I enjoyed my visit. Verbena bonariensis will never be my backup plan, I fear, but there are other plants that seem to leap into any breach here.

    • bittster says:

      “leap into any breach here”… I like that. Sometimes I feel like I really have to lay down a mulch barrier in order to get any semblance of order in the garden. I really don’t know how the non-munchers manage, that’s just too much daily attention and weeding for me!

  3. Annette says:

    Beautiful images of an even more beautiful, awesome planting, Frank. Can’t get over how well the borders have come on. All lush and tropical without the risk of a hurricane to flatten it, that’s the way to have it. In Ireland we used to have bad storms with 120km/h taking off half the roof one year but 260km/h is a different story, scary. The nights are still filled with the song of crickets although it has turned a lot cooler and I love it although they’re hungry little buggers. Very happy too with my dahlias that came back big and powerful. Makes such a difference if you can leave them in the soil.

    • bittster says:

      I grew up closer to the coast and those winter storms and occasional hurricanes were always an adventure. Fortunately we were always in a safe area but I feel for all the people who have no other options.
      Lucky you to be able to overwinter dahlias in the ground. I bet that makes for some lush clumps and soooo much less work! I love the dahlias here but it takes a good amount of motivation to dig and replant every year.

  4. Eliza Waters says:

    I love your tropical border, Frank. Every year I say I’m going to plant cannas and I never do, probably because I don’t have enough room to do them justice. Yours are gorgeous. VB never self sows for me, don’t know why.
    Thanks for the squash ID… I had one come out of the compost pile and I have NO idea where it came from as this is the first I’ve ever seen one. Maybe it crossed with a gourd I bought last year? Is it edible or ornamental?

    • bittster says:

      You would be surprised by how easy it is to sneak in a canna tuber here and there. They do need a little space, but good soil and plenty of water will help them forgive all kinds of cramped quarters!
      So many people have trouble getting the verbena to reseed. Mine come up so thickly it’s almost the opposite problem and I wonder if someday my luck will turn. In my garden poor soil and neglect probably have something to do with it. Maybe someday I’ll be embarrassed by what all the reseeding verbena says about me!

  5. Now that I’ve stopped muching because of jumping worms, maybe I will try Verbena b. again. TheTropic of Pennsylvania looks and sounds good to me!

  6. Awesome! I think it’s time I stop by for the very-late-summer tour! Next year, I am going to steal away with some of your Verbena b. seedlings! Might be that it’s just colder enough up here that the seeds did not overwinter well. Nice Kniphofia, and I love Bengal Tiger too! And as for the stripes on stripes? Not too much at all, I say! Shouldn’t a tropical garden be all about excess? (PS–There are finally a few buds on the Dahlias you gave me!)

    • bittster says:

      Yay, dahlia buds! Now if only the deer can continue to ignore the plant…
      Yes a very late summer tour would be perfect! The colchicums are starting to flower now and that’s always interesting, plus a few chrysanthemums are looking nice. The gnats are terrible though. It’s making me dream of flamethrowers and full body netting.

  7. Definitely not too many stripes. As for the finger squash, the name is an anachronism, since Yugoslavia no longer exists. You should call it after your favorite former Yugoslavian Republic. How about Slovenian finger squash?

    • bittster says:

      I’ve seen it referred to as Hungarian finger squash, maybe that could be an appropriate update? I’m not too worried though. My father comes from a renamed city in a country which has also been renamed. He still refers to the old names of his birth, and I’m in no rush to erase his past.

      • That’s reasonable. One of our favorite restaurants was a Serbian place used called the Yugo Inn. Then they changed their name to Rada’s Place, and it went out of business.

  8. Cathy says:

    That tropical patch in your garden is anything but boring Frank! You are so lucky the Verbena spreads well for you. Mine just disappears every couple of years and I don’t have a single one this year. Hope the butterflies find your garden – it is probably marked on their navigation system as an ‘area of special interest’! We have got loads of Peacocks visiting our sedum right now.

    • bittster says:

      The butterflies have been fairly quiet lately but in a few weeks hopefully we will have a good visit – even though there is not as much verbena as usual this year to lure them in.
      I do tend to get a little bored with things that flower too long. It’s exactly opposite nearly every other gardener but I like when things grow and change!

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