Thomas J. Story; container design: Bud Stuckey

Common nursery plants can turn your patio into the tropics

Sharon Cohoon,  – August 12, 2004

Imagine Bali, the Indonesian island that enjoys perfect weather nearly year-round. Picture its lush green palms and ferns, its bright flowers. Breathe in the spicy-sweet scents of jasmine, tuberose, and frangipani.

The materials to create a Balinese corner in your garden are as close as your neighborhood nursery. Start in the houseplant section, and select a few plants to re-create that tropical mood with foliage.

Add flowers too, especially if they have a rich tropical fragrance like Bouvardia longiflora or datura. But keep in mind that a pot containing primarily foliage will be easier to maintain.

The following plants thrive through summer and well into fall (when frost is imminent, bring the containers indoors). Houseplants: arrowhead vine (Syngonium); bloodleaf (Iresine); bromeliads, especially billbergia, neoregelia, and vriesea; calathea (peacock plant, zebra plant); cordyline; ctenanthe; and maranta (arrowroot, prayer plant, rabbit’s foot). Foliage annuals: dwarf cannas; New Guinea impatiens; plectranthus; purple-leafed basil; shiso (Perilla frutescens); and variegated nasturtium. For fragrance, plant nicotiana or tuberose.

Consider adding exotic garden art to your pocket paradise. Mike and Robin Abrams of Los Altos, California, placed Balinese and Javanese statues by their tropical containers (one is shown in the photo above).



Aluminum plant (Pilea cadierei)


Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans)


Inch plant (Callisia elegans)

Purple passion vine (Gynura aurantiaca)

Foliage annuals


Euphorbia marginata ‘Summer Icicle’

Polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)

Zonal geraniums