Goshen News, Goshen, IN

January 25, 2013

THE DIRT ON GARDENING: Are tropical plants your niche?


— While not an expert in this class of plants, I’ve always admired them. There seems to be many more unusual species found in tropical plants than the normal outdoor Indiana plant life. Maybe I just feel this way because it’s not what I normally was used to seeing in the day to day activity at the garden center.

Tropical gardening in our area, or for that matter anywhere other than the tropics, takes special handling and a good deal more knowledge than the average gardener has. The delicacy of the plants and blooms are what makes them a little more special to a flower lover.

An Elkhart native taking the Master Gardener course the same time that I did was this type of expert at growing tropical plants. This was her niche and she grew many varieties of orchids that she would proudly show-off at garden shows or the yearly garden walks.

Tropical plants characteristics are just a little different than our garden variety plants in that they are strikingly unusual in shape, growing habits, and just plain beauty. Not many can say that they aren’t impressed when seeing a delicate orchid of multiple soft colors and fragrance that are fit for a king. One might think the Orchid would be the state flower of Hawaii instead of the tropical yellow hibiscus — after all, aren’t the infamous orchid leis of that state made of orchids?

When first stepping off the plane in Hawaii years ago the first order of business was to be adorned with beautiful orchid leis on each passenger. In fact, as I recall, every stewardess wore an orchid lei on the flight to Hawaii along with the traditional flower motif garment.

The first step off the plane was truly unbelievable coming from zero conditions of the Midwest in December to, as they say, a tropical paradise of balmy breezes and 80 plus degrees made it easily understandable why tropical plants flourish in this atmosphere.

At our hotel dining room, pink and purple orchids lying on ice adorned every square inch of the 40-foot long buffet table that wasn’t occupied with a tempting dish only to be dismantled after each meal and lovingly replaced with fresh orchids for the next meal — indeed fit of a king’s ransom.

Of course orchids aren’t the only flowers growing in this tropical paradise — there are many other equally beautiful flowers as well as green plants, some of them giant behemoths that grow wild in the mountains.

While on a hike in the mountains through one of their many parks an amazing thing happened — what started as a fine mist progressively turned into a torrential downpour that made us run for shelter. Other than a good soaking, the experience of the warm rain was taken all in laughter and the experience of the moment. As on all of the islands, the rain is short lived and the re-emerging sun quickly dries you off.

Locally, other than a few personal privately owned greenhouses, one would have to seek out a botanical garden to see these rare gems. There are a few that may be found that aren’t too distant — the Fort Wayne Botanical Gardens and the Wellfield Botanical Gardens in Elkhart or drive a little farther to Grand Rapids, Mich., to the Meijer Gardens and the Tropical Conservatory. This five-story structure features tropical plants from five continents of the world as well as waterfalls and misty steam beds.