Garden Photo of the Day

Tropical fever

Click here to enlarge this photo.
Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais
Click here to enlarge this photo.
Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais

Furcraea (Furcraea foedita ‘Mediopicta’, USDA Hardiness Zone 11) is the focal point in this combo at the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. It’s backed up by a golden sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas cv., Zone 11), Diamond Frost euphorbia (Euphorbia ‘Inneuphdia’, Zones 10-11), a dark coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides cv., Zone 11), a spiky orange and green pencil tree (Euphorbia tirucalli, Zone 11), fuzzy-leaved glory bush (Tibouchina sp, Zones 9-11), and a papyrus (Cyperus papyrus, Zone 11).

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  1. GardenEzi 08/18/2010

    This is a lovely design but I think a boldly patterned maranta, one of the smaller dracaenas with green and yellow stripes, and perhaps a good old fashioned aspidistra (one with gold-flecked leaves would look particularly good) would work well here too. I'm surprised to see the plants in the photos doing so well in Washington DC so perhaps other tropical foliage plants will do well there also. Is this part of the garden under cover during winter, I wonder?

  2. sheilaschultz 08/18/2010

    Great textures and color contrast, would be a fun combo for a big container! (Are the plants in a container?)

  3. Stoatley 08/18/2010

    It seems unlikely to me, too, that some of these plants would survive winter here, although you do see century plants grown in area gardens. It's more likely that these are among the seasonal plants that Smithsonian gardeners rotate. This garden is a gem. Mary Livingston Ripley saved it from being a parking lot!

  4. janetdraper 08/18/2010

    Hello all - glad to see the Smithsonian's Ripley Garden showing up at Fine Gardening! I have been the gardener here for the past 13 years and get to play with lots of fun plants. You are absolutely right about these things not being hardy in DC (zone 7B pushing an 8)

    This planting area in early spring would have been hundreds of tulips and as soon as they are finished blooming, they all get composted and I bring out the tropicals from our greenhouses. I try to do something different every year, but some of the plants will reappear again and again in different combinations.

    thanks for noticing the garden!
    janet draper, horticulturist
    Smithsonian Institution

  5. arboretum 08/18/2010

    terrific design AND maintenance! and michelle, thanks so much for all the plants in the photo. So helpful!

  6. GooberPetey 08/30/2010

    That purple-leaf plant isn't a coleus since it's got trifoliate leaves. The common name for Furcraea is "false agave." And the glorybush here is Tibouchina heteromalla (which is widely and incorrectly still listed as T. grandifolia). The USDA Zone ratings should be modified, as pencil cactus and false agaves are fine into Zone 9b, and this species of glorybush is best in Zone 10 and warmer.

    BTW, when are y'all gonna use the expansive zones (13 to 15) in your magazine and website? They've been around since 2005. Can't talk tropicals without em.

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