What should I do about our exotic flower bed?

When we built this L-shaped raised bed in a tucked-away corner of the front yard, I had high hopes. I wanted to create a lush, exotic oasis—a cool refuge to offset the heat of our Sacramento Valley summers.

January 19, 2009, the day we built the raised bed

I initially planted a variegated shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’) in the corner where both arms of the L meet, a silver lady fern (Blechnum gibbum) on the right, and a giant elephant ear Alocasia macrorrhiza ‘Borneo Giant’ on the left (not visible in the photo below because the tuber hadn’t leaved out yet). In between, I planted an assortment of gingers (Hedychium coronarium, Hedychium gardnerianum, Curcuma petiolata), smaller elephant ears, and some hostas.

June 10, 2009

The hostas didn’t last long (they are very difficult to grow in our climate—just not enough chilly days) but the other plants thrived.

June 3, 2010
My mom with giant elephant ear (Alocasia macrorrhiza ‘Borneo Giant’) and
Dwarf Cavendish banana (Musa acuminata 'Dwarf Cavendish')

Giant elephant ear (Alocasia macrorrhiza ‘Borneo Giant’)
Colocasia esculenta ‘Elepaio’
Silver lady fern (Blechnum gibbum)

While I still love the shell ginger, elephant ears and silver lady fern, I must admit I’m not so fond of the other gingers (Hedychium coronarium, Hedychium gardnerianum, Curcuma petiolata) any more. Sure, their flowers are beautiful, but they only last for a few days and then its back to the rather dull-looking foliage.

November 6, 2011

Plus, in the winter the mass of dead leaves is rather depressing. At the end of December, there was some green left…

December 29, 2011

…but the January freeze took care of that. By early February the bed was a sea of brown. Only the shell ginger was still mostly green (it’s significantly hardier than the other plants).

February 4, 2012
Just before I cut down the dead leaves

I cut off the dead leaves and stalks, raked the leaves off the decomposed granite walkway and deposited them on top of the bed for compost, and then I added a bag of chicken manure as fertilizer. All we need now is more rain and then a warm spring. Unlike perennials from temperate climates, these tropical plants don’t do much without heat.

February 4, 2012
After the clean up

Even though everything looks much better now, I’m still dissatisfied. I want to keep the shell ginger, the silver lady fern and the elephant ears, but I’m considering taking out the hedychiums and curcumas. Sure, their flowers look nice, but they only last for a few day before they fade and their foliage is really quite boring.

The problem is that I don’t know what to plant instead. That’s why I was hoping you’d be able to give me some inspiration. Ideally, I’d like to keep the exotic/tropical theme. I want evergreen plants with interesting foliage that are a touch hardier than what is there now so we have something attractive to look at year round.

Location: This bed faces east and south and gets just a bit of direct sun in the early afternoon, the rest of the day it’s filtered sunlight (large pear tree overhead).

Please leave your suggestions in the comments box below. Thank you for giving me a much-needed boost of inspiration!


  1. How about something low growing and with a lighter profile? Some kind of ferns? Maybe a ground cover that would creep over the edge? A very low growing bamboo?

    1. I've planted a few creeping wire vines, and they're beginning to hang over the edge. But we also need something taller, otherwise the bed itself would be the focal point.

  2. What about Cannas and more bananas Gerhard, like Ensete Maurellii? Or another Blechnum to mirror what is there already?

    I must say that Alocasia is stunning!

    1. I'm thinking of getting another alocasia. The tuber was about a pound when I bought it three years ago. It's got to be massive now. Surprisingly, it hasn't formed any offsets (yet).

      Ensete maurelli is beautiful, but it would die back completely in the winter. What about Schefflera taiwaniana?

  3. Replies
    1. I'd love a peony. However, I did a bit of research, and they need a chilling period to do well, much like lilacs and hostas. While I'm sure they'd survive here, I'm not convinced that they would thrive. I think we have to wait until somebody develops a hybrid specifically for warmer climates.

    2. Mom's Peonies in Salinas did very well and Salinas is not noted for the cold spells!

    3. We should try that one peony we saw in the catalog that was so gorgeous... nice foliage, too!


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