Brian Minter offers up some tips on how to brighten up your outdoor living area for the summerBrian Minter offers up some tips on how to brighten up your outdoor living area for the summerRead MoreFeedzy

Brian Minter offers up some tips on how to brighten up your outdoor living area for the summer

Brugmansia, commonly known as Angel’s Trumpet, produces gorgeous, pendulous trumpet flowers and a beautiful perfume. Photo by Minter Country Garden /jpg

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Finally, we’re getting some consistent warmer summer weather, and just maybe, it’s time to ‘show off’ a little bit on our patios and balconies.

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So far, it’s not been the best year for annual colour, but big, bold, easy-care tropical plants can transform our outdoor living areas into spaces usually found only in warmer climate get-aways.

Bananas are, perhaps, the most popular outdoor drama queens. Fast-growing, green Musa basjoo is the safest bet for our region. Starting with a four-to-five-foot plant, grown in a good-sized container, you can expect a seven-to-eight-foot specimen in just weeks, and its long, lush leaves will sway in the wind all summer long and well into fall. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to look after and create a nice tropical theme on any patio.

The large, colourful leaves of Ensete maurelii will add a dramatic tropical touch to any patio. Photo by Minter Country Garden /jpg

Although far more tender, the burgundy-red banana (Ensete maurelii) is a real head turner. It, too, thrives in a hot, sunny spot and makes quite a statement. Also growing quickly, but much more compactly, it’s ideal for smaller spaces as an impressive screen or focal point.

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Once established, tropical hibiscus will bloom consistently outdoors all summer and well into fall. Larger tree or shrub forms need little care once they find a home in a sunny location. Although their blooms last only a day or two — be sure to remove spent blossoms — they are constantly producing new buds for a continuous floral display of vibrant red, orange, yellow or pink blossoms, setting the tone for a tropical-themed patio.

Native to the tropics of South America, Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia suaveolens) are not seen nearly as much these days. Extremely quick growing, a six-to-seven-foot specimen can be grown in one season. The huge, pendulous, floral trumpets produce a beautiful perfume. The most popular colours are yellow, peach, white and pink. They tend to bloom in clusters, and they are easily trained into tree forms for the most stunning displays. All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested, so it may not be the best plant if you have small children.

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Elephant Ears are the newest ‘hot’ outdoor plants. Botanically, they are known as colocasias or alocasias — I have yet to find a tropical plant authority who can clearly explain why the two different names. Native to tropical Asia, they are members of the taro family. Their two most prominent features are their very large, green, ‘elephant ear’ leaves and the rich black foliage of many varieties, like Black Magic. They all need warm summer temperatures to thrive outdoors, and they need to be placed out of heavy winds to prevent the leaves from tearing.

Although we see them growing in full sun, they prefer, in fact, a slightly shaded location during the hottest summer weather. Like all these tropical showpieces, taros perform best in a container by themselves. The various taro varieties are truly magnificent additions to our summer patios, and they, too, will provide a wonderful display well into late summer.

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The many varieties of citrus are some of the most beautifully perfumed plants to enjoy on our patios. From lemons and oranges to limes and grapefruits, they will provide a continuous supply of fragrant flowers all summer. Citrus plants are very easy to care for as long as they are rootbound, not overwatered and fed with a citrus fertilizer, like GardenPro’s Evergreen and Citrus 30-10-10. They are happiest outdoors on the patio from late spring into early fall.

When I travel to Europe, I see stunning sweet bay trees (Laurus nobilis) almost everywhere, both in gardens and on patios. Rated a zone 7 plant, they can go out on the patio as early as March and stay there until November. The shiny, dark green leaves of these easy-care plants have that wonderful herbal ‘bay leaf’ perfume that is used to flavour many of our meat and pasta dishes. Sweet bay trees are especially lovely shaped as topiary forms.

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Fragrant eucalyptus, with its blue-silver foliage, makes an attractive container plant. Photo by Minter Country Garden /jpg

Some new patio favourites are the many types of eucalyptus. There are over 600 varieties; all are native to Australia. The two most popular in our area are the cider gum (E. gunnii), which is technically hardy to -12C to -15C and the E. cinerea Silver Dollar, which is hardy to -8C to -10C Their blue-silver foliage and their distinctive perfume are delightful additions to any patio. They grow so quickly that they can easily be a source of cut branches for bouquets. When trimmed on a regular basis, they can be an attractive container tree from late March through October.

All these patio specimens have a unique appearance, and for the most part, are easy-care plants. The challenge with all of them is that they need winter protection, particularly when temperatures dip below 5C to 0C. Even hardier ones, like sweet bay and eucalyptus, have no root protection when planted in containers. We overwinter all our tender plants in a cool greenhouse where we can keep the temperature above 5 to 8C.

This is far more difficult to do in a traditional household setting. The addition of a sunroom or a small, attached greenhouse would provide you with a new, year-round, extended living space, as well as a cold weather holding area where these plants can add a great deal of beauty throughout a long winter season.

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