I’m writing this sitting next to the largest begonia I have ever seen, almost the same size as an Endless Summer hydrangea, which is growing in almost pure sand about as far from the Caribbean Ocean as I could hurl a flip flop. It’s a mind blower. Not to mention the variegated philodendron that's climbing up the palm tree next to it, or the collection of sansavarias that's growing weed like along the driveway that snakes up to our rental house in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. By our pool we have hibiscus hedges as well as variegated gingers, banana trees, and elephant ears – all plants I love to use when designing summer pots for Hampton pool sides – but unlike my pots, that tend to be disposable, these babies here are all planted in the ground. We tend to think of tropical plants as annuals or as houseplants, but the palm trees we put in baskets, strategically placed on either side of sofas in living rooms that need a little greenery to give the room life, here are planted alongside our deck as a wonderful wake up call to the true nature of all these beauties.
You wouldn't think a plant from the tropics would do well in a house, but most of these plants are thriving in a low light (jungle floor) environment, so your dining room corner where they only get indirect light but it never gets below 50 degrees is actually perfect for them. Here in Costa Rica it's like your home has been turned inside out and everything has been fed steroids.
Everyone should spend some time in the Jungle. I promise, that if you are a plant nerd like me and you’re heading to the beach down a winding dirt path through the jungle and you come upon a field of spathiphyllum (Peace Lilies) like I did, you too will let out a yelping OMG as loud as I did, and will almost cause your husband to drive the rental car into the drainage ditch that’s been following you towards the sea. I haven’t see as many anthurium as I thought I would, but we’re planning a trip on an upcoming (predicted) rainy day to go searching for them. (I have the best husband!!)
Bromeliads stuck in the dirt next to pizza joint, the grocery store and the fish shop made me laugh as did the tillandias casually sprouting from the branches of citrus fruit trees and telephone wires. Trees wear a variety of pothos with same elan as some woman sport gold jewelry, clustered, and snaking around their entire bodies.
Although I will confess to being totally enthralled by both the solitary sloth and the company of spider monkeys that dangle from the trees as we enjoy our morning coffees, the Monstera (like philodendrons but with sharply incised leaves that's look like Swiss Cheese – thus the common name Cheese Plant) that both were using to transverse the canopy were fairly impressive as well. I went off on a haphazard hike trying to find the Howler monkeys we could hear (but not see) from the pool, and although totally not successful on my monkey search I did discover a couple of pileas, and a few baby tibouchinas that I desperately wanted to bring home with me. The pileas are fabulous houseplants, but tibouchinas aren’t. They are however one of my go to plants for summer color and to pet their fuzzy leaves in February is a total joy.
I tried to get a photo of a Birds nest fern that was taller than my husband by at least a couple of feet but the light was bad. At Marders we sell them in 6 inch pots and stick them in bathrooms.
The difference was revelatory. There were Peperomia like green guys everywhere I looked as well as deffenbachias (Dumb Cane) just casually hanging out. There are rumors of poinsettias trees that are 40’ tall in these parts, but I haven’t spotted one yet. We sell Dracaena Maginata in a variety of sizes in the shop, but nothing came close to the enormous ones we saw just growing along the route we took to our rental in Costa Rica. Ficus elasticita (Rubber Plants) casually spring up like dandelions, but with much bigger leaves.
Bill Smith and Dennis Schrader the two brilliant minds behind the Landcraft Tropical Nursery on the North Fork have a home on the Pacific side of the continent where they have made an apparently brilliant garden. Dennis is the author of Hot Plants for Cool Climates: Gardening with Tropical Plants in Temperate Zones and is one the man to see about bringing tropical into your home and garden both as summer only plants as well as ones that can hang out in your house and I’m dying to visit his home. If it wasn’t a 5 hour trip (one way)from where I now sit typing I’d be poolside at his villa ASAP. Oh and if you've never taken a trip to his North Fork nursery you must try and get there when it’s on the Garden Conservatory tour. It’s a wholesale nursery so you can't just drop in, but the garden amazing, and definitely worth the visit.
I wish I had Dennis with me right now so we could geek out on plants together, and I’m sorry I. missed the Horticultural Alliance of the Hamptons (HAH) trip there this Past Christmas. I’ve seen what I consider annuals growing in the wild before, a huge lantana in Mexico that was growing larger than my largest viburnums at home and which is actually considered a pesty weed in it’s home town, but Acosta Rica is revelatory. Yesterday at lunch I sat catty corner to a self sown clump of Ptilotus exaltatus ‘Joey’, a plant I tend to be quite fond of as it has fuzzy, soft pinkish lavender flower spikes, that I love to pet when it’s slow at the nursery. The patch at lunchtime was growing from the base of a telephone pole that was jammed next to a broken down wall in a sort of Costa Rican hell-strip where the only water it’s getting is whatever has come from the sky. Browallia americana is a native here as are two begonias and the variety of butterfly weed, Asclepius curassavica, that I sometimes use as a cutting flower at home – they last forever in a vase. We grow calathea for its foliage as house plants, here it's a roadside plant that flowers fabulously. The Wandering Jew we know from hospital waiting rooms? Here it's a ground over. And the Crotons, wow, don’t even get me started on the Crotons.
I'm planning a trip to the Finca la Isla Botanic Garden, a farm that's commercially growing fresh fruit and organic chocolate, just to see the iridescent Jade Vine in all it’s electric turquoise beauty in it’s natural state. I’m in love with the one that's growing in the Bronx Botanic Garden’s Conservatory, the color is off the hook, but to see it growing in the wild, that's certainly worth leaving the spider monkeys behind. Plus they also sell plants and we all know I'm a sucker for a plant shop.
Paige Patterson knows she can't bring any plants home with her but wonders, will anyone notice the baby spider monkey in her pocket.