Sunday, November 1, 2009

Tropicalissmo! (sort of)

Over at Danger Garden, Loree recently invited her reader/bloggers to join her in posting a then-and-now retrospective of their garden progress. I loved the idea, so my next few posts will focus on areas of our back garden that have undergone transformation since we moved in in 2007.

Today, our "tropical" area.

To set the scene, see the picture above (looking south): our backyard is a flat-sided hourglass, with larger areas north and south, and a narrow neck in the middle. The entire backyard was circumscribed by a four-foot chain link fence with gray slats. You can see the grassy bowling alley we inherited from the previous homeowners in 2007.

We decided the northern part would be Ben's Northwest native area, our southern part would be my Mediterranean and xeric area and we'd have a small tropical middle where it was limited in size and easy to keep watered.

We spent the winter following our purchase of the house planning a complete re-do of the backyard. As much as we hated the chain link, it would have been prohibitively expensive to replace its nearly 200 running feet with something we liked better. Above, looking north, using buckets and pots to plan the location of trees.

March 2008: We yanked the plastic vanes out and painted the fence black to help it go away visually.

April 2008: The landscape crew removed grass and quite a lot of concrete walkway up next to the house.

More soil has been brought in and the new beds are amended.

May 2008: I have just planted bamboo along the fence in the tropical area. I posted earlier about the bamboo barrier and planting here.

September 2008: In a surprise move, we added back some sod(!) The plan is to bump out the bed on the left and still have a walkway to the north area.

A shot of the bamboo, which was filling in nicely by September.

The same area, but from the north.

December 24, 2008: Amazingly, the bamboo bounced right back after the snow and ice melted.

Spring 2009: The fatsia japonica and some callas I transplanted from the front of the house are doing their spring thing.

May 2009: these may be common callas, but they are beautiful, healthy, and add a wonderful tropical note to the garden.

June 21, 2009: George and Martha came to the tropics for Fathers Day. The assorted cannas are finally leafing out.

July 2009: the bamboo is filling in more.

Later that summer, a musa basjoo joined the group. In hindsight, I see I should have planted it further away from the house.

October 2009: The banana is getting bigger, but behind it the bed has become a bit of a catch-all for the plants I didn't immediately have another place for, like a cinnamon-colored chrysanthemum and some hemerocallis Stella d'Oro. But on the right, huge colocasia leaves are a wonderful accent.

Have we achieved tropicalissmo? I need more ground-level plants, and the bump out isn't done yet, but I think we're getting there. I also need to get the inappropriate plants out of the beds and replace them with more tropical-feeling selections. One irony is that some of the largest-leaved plants have ended up with the smallest footprint to call their own. I have a feeling we'll be expanding the tropical area southward in future years.


  1. Nothing "common" about those callas (think Maplethorpe)...I think they are one of the most elegant of flowers.
    I wish my foresight were half as good as my "hindsight".
    The black paint on the chainlink is brilliant, although it looks like it has become nearly hidden by foliage.
    Great transformation!

  2. Wow...all since 2007? I am very impressed! From the looks of your pictures I think we both planted our Musa basjoo similar distances from our houses! What were we thinking? I appreciate your observation about the big leaves in the small foot print, seems the way things go sometimes! I'm guessing you've gotten a lot of compliments from your neighbors who get to enjoy the fruits of your labor?

    Oh and do you have the book Tropicalissmo? Worth getting if you don't, lots of great plant recommendations.

  3. Hard to believe you have planned and enacted all of that gorgeousness in two short years. Kudos! I will not be participating in this before/after business since I think all I have done is make things worse in a previously very planned and tidy garden. Oh well, at least I get exercise digging in the dirt! Can you move the banana or is it too late? I have seen them growing pretty close to foundations and they seem to do okay.

  4. Ricki, I agree the callas are spectacular and I love them. I just feel a bit humble since they pretty much grow themselves.

    Loree, I wish our immediate neighbors were a bit more garden-oriented: they just about mow the grass... I'm sure they don't mind the green, though. Thanks for the Tropicalismo recommendation: I just ordered one at Powells on your mention. And thanks for the agave book recommendation on your blog: I got it direct from Timber Press and it's great!

    Karen, I don't know about moving the banana, but I think I will have to try. I rather foolishly thought it would just tend to grow toward the sun on the south and east sides: the reality is it's sending up new trunks on the west side - even closer to the house!

  5. I'm impressed how quickly that came together. It must help to have a clear vision, and to tackle it quickly. My first few years in my house I did a little at a time here and there, and it really took forever to start to look like a garden. I was going to say, you should see if you get banana pups growing further away from the house and then cut back the ones closer to the house, but it sounds like it's sending out pups the wrong direction for that. I see bananas at the chinese garden that are right on top of walls, they seem to do alright, but I can understand wanting to move them out. Maybe you can divide some of those pups from the main plant in spring, and start a little banana grove.

  6. Hi Jane~~ I'm a first timer. Love your tropical-esque border. The bamboo, to die for! It must be a running type if you used the barrier, which seems to be working beautifully. I have chain link fencing too. It is fabulous trellage. My Hall's honeysuckle is, well, on steroids and is perfectly happy adhering to the links. Something to think about. George and Martha look perfectly at home.


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