Feel the heat

Heat up the garden with tropical plants.

If cold weather has you down, it's time to look toward the tropics. Not to visit -- although that would  be delightful if you're able to get away and can afford it. But if you can't, now's the perfect time to plan to add some colorful tropical plants to next summer's garden.

For ideas of things I may not have tried before, I've been leafing through Pam Baggett's cute little book "Tropicalismo!" (Timber Press, 208 pages, $14.95, paperback).

It's not the book you need if you're new to tropical plants as it doesn't really discuss their growing and care in general terms at all. Instead, it presents 100 outstanding tropical plants that should grow as annuals anywhere in the US. Each gets a page that tells you something about it (including how to pronounce the name) and gives symbols for the type of light it needs and the amount of watering required.

Then, opposite that is a full-page color photo of the plant, often in a landscape setting so you can see how it grows and what type of companions go well with it. (Pam usually suggests three or four choices.)

But the potential height and width of the plants are rarely given and because the book lacks an index, there's no way to find common names except by leafing through all the pages.

So I'm using the book as a picture gallery to spark ideas. I'm intrigued by Religious Radish coleus, for instance, which I've somehow missed growing. (I can recommend all the other coleuses she includes.)

Then I'm reminded that I haven't had Thunbergia in my garden for several years and, admiring the purple flowers, I wonder why in the world not.  And as long as I'm in a purple mood, what about Tibouchina urvilleana  (princess flower or glory bush)?

Maybe this will be the year I go for purple and chartreuse plants? Well ... there are a lot of sizzling reds that appeal to me, too. I think I'll keep the book on my beside table so I can leaf through it each evening. Probably I'll change my mind dozens of times before warmer weather arrives.

But that's OK -- the book keeps reminding me that it's warm elsewhere and eventually it will be warm where I am, too -- and when that happens, I want to have those heat-loving plants ready to plant.

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