SEP. 07, 2022
Looking back over the summer’s rich bounty in my garden, it occurred to me that I’ve relied almost exclusively on plants and shrubs that are “sure things.” I know the habits and requirements of these old friends, and they’re pretty happy in their places in my garden. Perhaps, it will be fun to shake things up a bit—visually. Why not add a few surprises to my lovely, familiar ferns and asters?
So, if you’re ready to take a few chances, make a few changes, here are some suggestions for unusual and exotic beauties to delight the eye and pique the curiosity of admirers.
Let me begin with a few cautionary suggestions.
Potting: Since you and your exotics will be getting to know one another’s requirements, I recommend you pot the new plants. Handsome or pretty pots give you the flexibility to move your new plants if they seem unhappy and need to a change from less to more sun, from breezy to protected spots. Additionally, keeping your exotics in pots allows you to bring them indoors when cold weather arrives—into your sheltered garage or your family room, where they can be admired and looked after.
Records: Since exotics are sometimes rather finicky, keep a simple diary or notebook. Record the names and where and when you received these plants. Note any recommendations concerning the plant’s care: sunlight, watering, fertilizing, pruning, tolerance of heat and cold. As time goes on, you can update your records and take a few pictures along the way. If, heaven forbid, your exotic begins to droop, you can take your diary and photos to a botanist or master gardener for some advice.
That said, let’s look at some types of exotics you may want to adopt. Think of them as House Plants, visiting indoors until spring. Since autumn is roaring down upon us, you may want to choose an exotic plant that will fit into your décor—perhaps a sleek palm or plump cactus for a modern look, or a lush fern in a more traditional room.
Hanging Plants: Here’s where it gets fun! If you can identify a low tree limb or a ceiling hook, indoors, there are some lovely plants that trail and vine beautifully.
String of Pearls and String of Bananas: These two succulents are easy to grow, unusual, and pretty, either hanging or situated on a surface where there’s room for the “strings” to trail. The plant keeps its lovely green color and responds well to pruning. When spring comes, hang them outdoors, after all danger of frost has passed.
Variegated Spider Plant: We’ve probably all been given spider plants at some point. They seem to grow without any need for assistance and produce pretty stems that cascade down with tiny, new spider plants dangling from each stem. You can find some exotic varieties with variegated colors—green edged with crème or pink. And, when they’re set outdoors, hanging from the branch of your dogwood, they grow lush and full, readying themselves for another indoor winter.
Dramatic Plants: For that low flowerbed with its pretty creeping phlox and petunias, you might want to introduce a vertical, dramatic plant, something that will lift the eye and add a bit of pizzazz.
Palms: An obvious choice for a bit of razzle-dazzle is a palm. There are lots of varieties. Usually, they are sold potted, so you need only drop the pot into a temporary hole in the ground or a handsome pot, and you’re set. Fan and Majesty Palms are the most familiar types, with fronds immerging from the base. Parlor Palms resemble miniature bamboo, with clusters of stems each topped with fronds. Ponytail Palms are fun, looking like an overly curled hairdo. They require a bit more room to show off properly.
Yucca: These very dramatic and less familiar beauties do require floor space and room in the garden. The Color-Guard and Variegated Yuccas produce firm, sharp leaves that burst out of the plant’s core. They will discourage animals from getting too close, if you’re trying to get Rover to stop running through the flowerbeds. Indoors, the yucca will be handsome in a broad, open area where it can be admired from a distance.
Bromeliads: Bursting with drama—leaves and blossoms or the Bromeliad can be pink, purple, gold, or orange. While these exotics are slow to bloom—up to three years before they mature—they are undemanding plants and the colorful leaves alone make them noteworthy additions to your home and garden. The only cautions I’d give you for these beauties; be careful to fertilize them during the nine months of growing season, and don’t overwater.
Orchids: Finally, we come to those gorgeous and most exotic of flowering plants, the orchid. There are countless articles and books explaining how to grow orchids, so I won’t even attempt to advise you. The Moth Orchid or Phalaenopsis is the most cooperative variety with its pretty “face” and undemanding temperament. The Lady Slipper Orchid or Paphiopedilum is almost as easy to grow as any other houseplant. And of course, there are lots of other varieties, as well as orchid growers’ clubs and competitions to win prizes for your orchid.
These are just some of the dramatic or exotic plants you might want to introduce to your garden and your home. Gardening is an art as well as a craft. Experimentation is part of the fun.