I’ve always loved the traditional cottage gardens. Tall, stately hollyhocks surrounded with mounds of sweet Shasta daisies filled with a profusion of flowers, butterflies and hummingbirds flitting among roses and phlox, bees buzzing through lilacs. It all seems so peaceful and relaxing, not to mention beautiful beyond compare. I’ve always wanted such a paradise in my own yard.
I have friends all over the United States, and they all share lovely photos of their pretty blossoms on Facebook. Yes, I admit to a touch of garden envy. So many of them can grow beautiful foxgloves and peonies in their yards with little to no effort. I, on the other hand, live in an area where cottage garden flowers generally die an agonizing death, either by burning up in our 100+ degree temperatures or rotting away in our 70+ percent humidity. I know. I’ve tried. It’s just heartrending to see what happens to foxgloves here in the subtropics. Let us also not forget that I live on the coast which also comes with its own touch of salinity. I’ve tried growing foxgloves in every way I can imagine. In the sun, they cook. In the shade, they rot. In between, they rot, then cook. It’s not pretty.
All of this said, I still wanted my flowery paradise, a setting where I can sit and drink iced tea and commune with the butterflies and hummingbirds. Here, Shasta daisies will grow in the shade. I can grow my heirloom roses. Hollyhocks will grow here, but rust is a high risk. Phlox doesn’t last long, although Sweet William will grow here. So, I channeled my inner plant nerd and set to work on the problem.
I compiled a list of flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Next, I took that list and crossed off the ones that won’t survive our heat and humidity. That narrowed it down considerably, I must say. My final step was to take out my sketchpad and pencils, sit on my back porch with the ever-present iced tea (This IS the South, after all!), and sketched out a design. Once I had my plans set, the next step was to embrace the heat stroke and start digging. Once it was all said and done, it looked nothing like the cottage garden of my dreams. Instead, I created a tropical paradise that invites just as many butterflies and hummingbirds as any cottage garden. As an added benefit, I get to enjoy the heavy perfumes of tropical beauties like gardenia, jasmine, magnolia, almond verbena and roses.
Pride of Barbados, Caesalpinia pulcherrima, attracts both hummingbirds and butterflies by the hundreds. Butterfly flowers, Asclepias tuberosa, provide a splash of color as well as a magnet for more butterflies. An almond verbena tree, Aloysia virgata, coupled with Plumeria are definitely suitably fragrant and beautiful substitutes for lilacs. Bird of paradise, Strelitzia reginae, is a dramatic eye catcher in the garden. Hibiscus flowers come in all different colors. The creamy white jasmine and gardenias glow in the moonlight. White needle flowers, Augusta rivalis, are another beautiful addition. Ornamental ginger plants and colorful pentas provide splashes of color and texture. Bare spots are filled with cheerful zinnias and marigolds. Tiny little rain lilies, Zephyranthes spp, add a blooming carpet around them all. Cheerful geraniums, impatiens, and begonias fill pots and barrels in the shade of the porch and are tender perennials here where we don’t get any freezes. Jungle geranium, Ixora coccinea, is a lovely evergreen shrub that also attracts butterflies. Passionflowers, Passiflora incarnata, provide a lovely climbing habitat for the Gulf fritillary butterfly which feeds exclusively on Passiflora species.
So, I don’t have a cottage garden, but I do have a tropical paradise where butterflies and hummingbirds are perfectly happy to linger awhile and keep me company when I choose to take my tea out to the porch and enjoy the fragrances of the tropics. When my friends send me pictures of their foxgloves, yes, I get a little envious twinge, but I immediately respond with a picture of my hibiscus. I might also be guilty of sending them pictures of my flowers in full bloom while their cottage gardens are buried under a few inches of snow, but I plead the fifth …