“HOW On Earth” – Published in Pink Magazine – August 2011


Begonias, Ti Plant, and Banana tropical display

I remember when I first came to Hilton Head Island, I was fascinated by all of the Palm trees. Tropical plants and gardens have always appealed to me, and here in the lowcountry, there is a welcoming environment. According to the USDA plant hardiness zone map, we are considered subtropical. We are located in zone 8, (8a for coastal and 8b inland). Unlike in tropical regions, the majority of this plant palette will go dormant during the winter months. They also may be slow to return, especially after cold winters. That said, there is something so inviting and visually appealing about the tropical garden. I love the lushness, the textures, and the vibrancy of color in this paradise. These gardens seem at home in a pool setting, or a contemporary home.  The theme can also be used as an accent to a more formal setting or simply used in pots. The relentless heat and humidity of August can wreak havoc on many plants, however, it truly showcases this type of garden. This month I welcome you to explore the beauty, the warmth, and sultriness in this Garden of Eden.

Chinese Fan Palm

PALMS: This is the quintessential plant that simply says tropical.

Common Name

Botanical Name

Habit Zone Deer


Chinese Fan Palm

Livistona chinensis

15-25’ 8-11 yes I have used this as a hedge and is a great palm for the shade.
European Fan Palm

Chamaerops humilis

10-15’ 8-11 yes Loves full sun, super tough and great in a pot.
Sago Palm

Cycas revoluta

6-12’ 8-11 yes Great as an accent or focal point.
Lady Palm

Rhapsis excelsa

8-12’ 8-11 yes Excellent in the shade, slow growing, great in a pot.
Pindo Palm

Butia capitata

15-20’ 8-11 yes Graceful with its arching fronds.
Sabal Palm

Sabal palmetto

Up to 60’ 7-11 yes South Carolina state tree.
Canary Island Date Palm

Phoenix canariensis

30-60’ 8b-11 yes Focal point and very dramatic.
Windmill Palm

Trachycarpus fortunei

15-25’ 8-11 yes These are great when a smaller Palm tree is wanted. Will do great in a pot.
Coontie Palm

Zamia pumila

2-3’ 8-11 yes I love these “ferny” low growing palms.

FERNS: Ferns provide a fabulous texture that pairs well with the large foliage of many of the tropical foliage.

Common Name

Botanical Name

Habit Zone Deer Resistant Description
Australian Tree Fern

Cyathea cooperi

7-15’ 8-11 yes Great accent!
Autumn Fern

Dryopteris erythrosora

18-24” 5-8 yes My favorite dependable evergreen fern.
Holly Fern

Cyrtomium falcatum

2-3’ 8-10 no Dark green and glossy.
Kimberly Queen

Nephrolepsis obliterata

2’ 8-11 yes Great in pots, it will spread quickly in the ground.
Boston Fern

Nephrolepsis exaltata

2-3’ 8-11 yes This is the hanging basket fern. Be careful if planted in the ground. It will spread rapidly.
Foxtail Fern

Asparagus meyerii

2-3’ 9-11 no Great texture and lime green color.

Philodendron "hedge"

Shrubs: Shrubs provide the backbone and foundation of your tropical paradise.

Common Name

Botanical Name

Habit Zone Deer


Mirror-Leaf Viburnum

Viburnum awabuki

6-12’ 8-11 yes My favorite Viburnum with its dark green, glossy and large leaf.
Sweet Viburnum

Viburnum odoratissimum

10-20’ 8-11 yes Excellent hedge and screening. Will stay full to the ground.
Split-leaf Philodendron

Philodendron selloum

4-8’ 8-11 yes Very large leaf and very tropical looking.


6-20’ 8-11 yes Next to palms, this plant says tropics. There are many varieties to choose, some hardier than others.

Nerium oleander

8-12 8-11 yes Requires full sun to produce the best flowers.
Pineapple Guava

Acca sellowiana

8-12’ 7-11 yes Gray foliage with smaller reddish flowers.

Callisetemon viminalis

6-15’ 8-11 yes Full sun is needed and ample room is needed to produce the unique red flowers.

Fatsia japonica

5-7’ 8-10 no Large and dark glossy green leaf plant.

PERENNIALS: These are the dependable and reliable plants that will return each year.

Common Name

Botanical Name

Habit Zone Deer



Alpinia, Hedychium, Kaempferia, Globba, Curcuma

2-8’ 8-11 Yes This is a large and quite underutilized group of plants. These are a great substitute for hostas here in the south.
Canna Lily


3-4’ 7-11 No Aside from the striking flowers in numerous colors, I love the broad foliage of these plants.
Elephant Ears

Alocasia, Colocasia, Xanthosoma

2-8’ 8-11 Yes Another favorite here and many varieties to choose from.


2-10’ 5-10 No This is quite a large family and the hardiness varies.
Purple Heart


15-18” 7-11 No Great purple leafed ground cover type plant.
Bird of Paradise


3-15’ 9-11 Yes There are two to choose from. The white form which is taller and the orange.
Angel Trumpet

Brugmansia, Datura

8-15’ 9-11 Yes Exotic and showy, these will do great in a pot.

SEASONAL COLOR: These plants add punch and color. They easily hold up in our heat and provide constant color throughout the growing season.

Common Name

Botanical Name

Habit Zone Deer




12-30” 9-11 No Dragonwings are easy to grow and often times will come back in a mild winter.
Copper Plant

Acalpha wilkesiana

3-10’ 10-11 Yes Multicolored and quite dependable.


3-6’ 10-11 No Very tough and great in pots.


8-12” 10-11 No We all love these non stop bloomers.


3-4’ 10-11 No Loves full sun and will bloom all season.
Oyster Plant/ Rhoeo


8-12” 9-11 Yes Great massed as an edge.
Ti Plant

Cordyline ‘Red Sister’

3-4’ 9-11 No Excellent shade plant and very colorful.
Persian Shield


4-5’ 8-11 No Purple and iridescent, striking in the shade.


8-16” 8-10 Yes These love moisture.


1-3’ 9-11 Yes Continuous bloomer, will perform in sun or shade.

GROUNDCOVERS: The lushness of the tropical garden is not complete without the use of a groundcover. Many others can be used, below are simply my favorites.

Common Name

Botanical Name

Habit Zone Deer


Asiatic Jasmine

Trachelospermum asiaticum

6-12” 7-9 No Fast coverage, small glossy green leaves.
Algerian Ivy

Hedera canariensis

8-10” 5-9 No Large leafed ivy
Cast Iron

Aspidistra elatior

2-3’ 7-11 No Sword shaped leaves, very tough, also good in pots.
Sweet Potato Vine

Ipomoea batatas

8-11 No Rampant growth, great for the colors available.

Thumbergia blooms

FLOWERING VINES: Add vines to cover a wall, or in a pot with support, or even allowed to climb a trunk of a tree.

Common Name

Botanical Name

Habit Zone Deer


Blue Sky Vine

Thunbergia grandiflora

20-30’ 8-11 Yes Gorgeous large blue flowers bloom late in the season.


3-8’ 10-11 Yes Great smaller accent vine.
Butterfly Pea Vine

Mascagnia macroptera

8-12’ 8-11 Yes Foliage stays evergreen and the distinct yellow flowers bloom all season.
Passion Vine


15-20’ 7-11 Yes Very tropical looking


9-11 Yes Thrives in full sun and with neglect.

BRING THE INSIDE OUT: These are great to add on a table, at an entry, or scattered throughout the garden.

Common Name Zone Deer Issue Description
Orchids 10-11 No Orchids are surprisingly tough. Over watering is usually their nemesis.
Bromeliads 10-11 No These are my new favorites this year. Incredibly tough and low maintenance.
Pothos 10-11 No Great in pots to cascade and add a punch of color.
Draceana 10-11 No I use the Lemon Lime variety over an over again for its great color in a very dark and dry space.