With their striking structural forms, masses of large leaves or finely cut foliage, and hot flamboyant flowers tropical plants create a lush look evocative of paradises far away. To some it’s wasteful to create tropical gardens in our desert scape, and they might even feel that tropicals don’t “fit” here.
I’m not in favor of creating landscapes that evoke the tropics – it’s too difficult to ignore the ever-present Eucalyptus or the native Chaparral on our dry mesas or in our boulder-rich foothills. I love the California native landscape, and I love desert plant species and Mediterranean plants. However, in the hottest months many of the gardens that are landscaped with drought tolerant plants look drab and lifeless. Perhaps it’s due to a fine layer of dust… or the summer dormancy of our drought resistant plants. For those of us who want to add a bit more ‘spice’ to our bleached-out gardens here are more “wanna-be tropicals”. They’ll add hot, energizing color and lush foliage, yet as drought tolerant plants fit into a true xeriscape San Diego style. (See my previous blog post about this subject.)
This tough succulent produces beautiful orange, exotic waxy flowers year round, in contrast to many other Aloes. It’s superb also for its toughness as it can tolerate regular water to dry conditions and thrives even on the northside of buildings where it never gets any direct sun. 1 ft 6 inch height, spread 2 ft; hardy to 25F.
As a shrub that slowly grows 6 to 7 ft tall and 5 ft wide this Bougainvillea is more adaptable to smaller gardens than its rambling brethren. With hot pink flowers for most of the year it can be paired with succulents, tropical looking plants or desert gardens as it is very drought tolerant once established. Hardy to the mid 20s.
This is a wonderful highlight of color in the garden with deep red, luxurious flowers. Height about 1½ ft by width 1½ ft. In massing it would have a great impact. Blooms in spring and again in fall. A good technique to coax it into re-bloom and remove spent leaf blades is to cut the whole plant about 6 inches above ground when the first flush of flowers is gone.
When in bloom in early summer, this evergreen tree is quite showy with yellow fragrant flowers against glossy green leaves. It has an open, graceful upright habit and can reach a height of 20 to 40 ft and a spread of 20 ft. It likes sun to partial shade, well-drained soil and is water-wise. Early pruning will result in a stronger, denser plant.
This rose is perhaps a perfect stand-in for Hibiscus without its problems of mildew or whiteflies… It produces sweet rosy red, 2-3 inch single-petaled blossoms with ruffled edges, on beautiful bronze/dark green disease resistant foliage. Approximately 5 – 6′ tall and wide. Flowers most of the year with nice hips in winter; full to part sun, and hardy to -15 F.
With glossy, evergreen foliage and a very tropical flare, this shrub can grow to 30+ feet in height and can be trained into a single trunk tree. Stems produce bright green, palmate lobed leaves that slope down. Loves the sun or partial shade, and medium water. Hardy to 28 degrees
It surprised me to learn that many of these plants that I had formerly considered ‘water huggers’ need indeed much less water, as the grower of these plants, Tom Jesch of Waterwise Botanicals in Bonsall explained: With the appropriate watering rhythm in their establishment phase they will push out their roots far and deep which makes them much more resistant to a low water regime than we are used to believe.
With our rising water cost and the prolonged high temperatures that have parched so much of our land water conservation and drought resistant landscaping is on all our minds. So it’s wise to look for plants that fit into our xeriscape designs, but we don’t need to deprive ourselves of a lush look and energizing colors.