By Steve Smith
Every year I try to move my customers a little farther out of their comfort zones to experiment with some plants that perhaps they are unfamiliar with or are afraid they will fail to make grow. Mostly, I am talking about the focal or “thriller” components of a container planting. Traditionally, gardeners have gravitated to the green “Spikes” or Dracena – which work well, are fairly inexpensive, and can often last more than one
season. But if you try something different you will get up to six months entertainment and have your neighbors looking over the fence. Here are a few ideas:
•Egyptian Papyrus — The exotic plant has triangular green stems that can grow up to 7 feet tall and are punctuated at the top with a tuft of filaments that remind me of an exploding firework. We start these early in our greenhouses so you will have a nice specimen by mid-May, which can then double in size by the end of the season. Papyrus is a water plant that can be put into a shallow pond for summer, but will also grow fine in moist and rich potting soil. •Red Bananas — These bold and dramatic plants require a good-sized pot. I always snag two 5 gallon ones, but you can also start with a less-expensive 1-gallon size. Both will quadruple their size by the end of summer. I just love it when the sun shines through their translucent leaves, exposing their
venation. The dark red leaves offer ample opportunity to make some awesome color combinations around the edges of the container.
•Colocasia/Alocasia — These are known as taro or elephant ears and come in green or dark maroon foliage with violet or even red stems. Big, bold foliage is their hallmark. With ample food and water their leaves can reach up to 3 feet across.
•Kangaroo Paws — The foliage looks like an iris but the flowers are up to 4 feet above the foliage; they come in yellow to orange to red, are fuzzy like a kangaroo paw and last all summer. These are perfect for a sunny and drought-tolerant planting, so try combining them with some trailing verbena or
gazanias, or do the minimalist thing and surround them with black Mondo grass.
This summer, have fun with these plants. They will give you months of enjoyment and despite some of their higher costs, when you amortize it out over the season, it is only pennies a day. That’s cheaper than a latte.