Paul and Nila Dowlearn-Owners of Wichita Valley Nursery. Paul’s recent books, “The Lazy Man’s Garden” and “Touch the Earth” are available at the Nursery, 5314 S.W. Pkwy, Wichita Fall, Texas.

Cannas instead of bananas? Doing a bit of research lately I found that these two plants are in the same plant family. I had always thought they kinda looked similar. I have known many friends and clients who wanted their swimming pool, patio, or water features to have a tropical look. Some will go to great lengths to try and get tropical plants like bananas and palm trees to survive so they can display them outside during summer.

After over 30 years of failed attempts plus many new discoveries I have found one can “look” tropical using plants that are reliably cold hardy plus tolerant of our dry heat. Most of these can even be left outdoors in large decorative pots that are also popular in outdoor décor. Here’s a short list:

Hibiscus- Featured in last week’s article. Buy the native and/or cold hardy varieties that can be left outdoors. There are many cultivars we can choose from.

Moonflower (datura wrightii)- This short-lived perennial has very large leaves and is the largest flower known among our native plants. Giant white blooms open at sunset. Pleasant aroma and perfect for those who like to watch the sun go down in the cool of the evening. Prolific from seed so one plant will likely result in many offspring.

Cannas (canna X generalis)- Like hibiscus, cannas have been hybridized to give us many colors of flowers and different hues of their large leaves. Growing easily 6’-8’ tall and spreading from resilient rhizomes this plant has a very long life span. Blooms from late spring into fall. Easy to grow. Our cannas at Wichita Valley have actually become a problem as they show up uninvited in our mulched beds to crowd out smaller plants.

Yuccas, hesperaloes, cacti and other cold hardy succulents- While I don’t recommend any thorny or spikey plants (including roses) around pools, patios, or any high traffic areas, there are a good number of these that are thornless or have softer leaves that will not pose much of a hazard. Most of us regard these as desert plants but we do see their tropical cousins sold down at the Megamart as “houseplants.” These make wonderful accent plants with thoughtful placement. All kinds of interesting shapes and flowers from smaller plants like sedums to the big specimen yuccas to add to your tropical “look.” Our thornless prickly pears (opuntia ficus-indica) have become quite popular over the years.

Palmetto (sabal minor)- Saving the best for last, the discovery of an isolated stand of these small native palm trees just east of the DFW Metroplex has been one of my most noteworthy contributions. We have been growing these cold hardy palms outdoors (in pots) at Wichita Valley for decades. Oddly enough, we are still the only local nursery that grows this one. However, every garden center I know of will sell “marginally” cold hardy palms of some kind.

Nila and I planted our first palmetto in a protected southwest corner of our stone house. Palmetto is considered a short palm as the name implies. That said, our first plant is now at least 25 years old, has a wide trunk now 4’ above ground, and is easily 16’ tall. The palm fronds are huge with some measuring 4’ or more across. Big enough for this ole boy.

So, cannas, instead of bananas. We can look tropical without having to struggle with hauling big heavy pots in and out of the house or greenhouse twice a year. I have always loved bananas and buy some every week. I also know that the guys who harvest native bananas in the tropics cannot grow peaches, pecans, and other produce that requires a cold winter dormant period. This, I think, makes for a good trade situation. We both can enjoy tasty fruits and nuts from our respective climates. One good reason to stay friendly with our neighbors to the south… And they with us.

We are now in mid-July and summer has been kind so far. Our “mosquito pond” down by the road is finally drying up after having held water for around eight months. The mosquitoes never were that numerous considering. The flies lately have been more bothersome. The mosquito spray trucks are not to be seen down our little dead end road. Nature has held things in balance quite nicely.

As things are beginning to dry up quickly now, I have been obliged to water veggies twice weekly and potted plants about every two or three days. We could use some rain. In our typical summer we see those afternoon popup showers where you could get a deluge, a sprinkle, or nothing at all. Still we rely on the fact that sooner or later, we each get our turn. It really doesn’t “always go around us” as folks like to complain. After a very nice wet and mild spring it appears that the weather is finally getting back to normal for Texoma.

The NOAA weather prediction people are saying we will see a pretty active hurricane season. Pray that it doesn’t get too bad for our neighbors along the coast but maybe we get some of that moisture. Meanwhile, anything that makes shade is a good thing. Ya’ll come see us.

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