There’s a reason those tropical plants look good enough to eat

Homegrown tastes of the tropics slumber in Marianne Willburn’s freezer — even now, when it’s almost as cold outside as it is in the suspended animation of that icy, dark compartment. And in the heat of peak growing season, the ginger, turmeric, or lemongrass that she stashes to enliven a warming wintertime curry make themselves useful in the garden, adding a visual dash of a different climate zone.

It wasn’t always so for her, either inside or out.

“I really found them incongruous,” said Ms. Willburn, an author and gardener who lives in Virginia, recalling how she used to feel when she would see tropicals in the garden center in spring, barely awake and not looking like much of anything in their black nursery pots. “I thought, ‘Why would I put myself through the work of growing them here?’”

It was on a garden tour in North Carolina that her thinking began to evolve. She saw a range of tropical plants — red-leaved bananas and more — used artfully in a landscape of mostly hardy plants. They looked as if they belonged.

“When I saw them fused really well with temperate plants — taking all the good things of the temperate climate and adding this element — I was like, ‘Oh, now I’m paying attention,’” she said.


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