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Monday, July 17, 2017

Exploring a Backyard Tropical Garden in Arkansas


What started as a love for palm trees has turned into a garden filled with lush foliage and colorful flowers. I was not sure how to pull off a tropical feel with plants that were cold hardy, but I had a vision in mind and set out to accomplish it. I have experimented with different plants and trees over the last few years and have finally found some that work. I wanted to share some of the plants that have been growing for me in zone 7b - 8a (Arkansas in the United States)  Hope you enjoy a photo tour of my garden! 😊

The Windmill Palm is the only palm tree that I found to actually be cold hardy. They stay green year around, even covered in snow. I have tried the Mexican Fan, Pindo, and others that clam on the label to live in my zone, but they don't! The Needle Palm is a bush type tree that thrives here. The only bad thing is that it has very long needles around the bottom!

There are three varieties of cold hardy banana tress that I grow are: Musa basjoo, Musella lasiocarpa or dwarf banana, and Musa velutina. All will die completely back to the ground in the winter, but will sprout back up in the spring.

Musa basjoo is the largest and least hardy of the three. The roots need to be mulched through a hard winter. I usually do not do anything to them if the winter is mild. The tree will grow 5 -10' tall in one season. Sometimes, small bananas develop right before the frost gets them. This particular tree is used in pots around the house as well as in the ground.

Musella lasiocarpa typically grows to 3-5' in one  growing season and has yellow blooms. I have yet to see a bloom on mine!😞

Musa velutina has white flowers that are quickly followed by very small,hairy, pink bananas. I have heard that they are edible and sweet, though full of seeds. They are so small that I have never thought of trying one! They will reach 4 - 6' tall in one growing season. They are very hardy and multiply quickly.

This is my first year with the red banana. I'm not sure if it will survive outside all year, but I am going to give it a try. I have it in a protected area near the house where I hope to leave it all winter. I will mulch it and maybe ever add some kind of extra protection. It is a very fast growing with very large leaves.

Crape Myrtles add a brilliant pop of color in the summer!

 I love my two sun tolerant hostas! The largest one is Afterglow. It dies back in the winter, but is early to pop back up in the spring. It typically grows 24 inches tall by 48 inches wide

 The hosta "Sun Power" has a standout lime green color.

Cannas are one of my favorite plants! I love the large leaves and beautiful large flowers. I have about ten different varieties in the garden. All of them will die back in the winter.

Tropicanna Black foliage is a combination of purple and black and has a red flower. It grows about six feet tall. It is definitely a show stopper!

Hardy hibiscus are a great way to add tropical flair. White, pink, and red varieties are my favorites.

Pink Oleander bush

Hardy ginger plants are easy to grow, cold hardy, and the blooms smell amazing! The variegated and solid with white blooms both are thriving.

Elephant Ears

Aucuba japonica, commonly called spotted laurel is an evergreen bush. It grows to about six foot tall and prefers the shade.

There were several Lily Turf plants growing around the yard when we bought the house about 12 years ago. I was not too crazy about them at the time, but saved them over the years. I am so glad that I did. I absolutely love them mixed in with the tropical plants!

I discovered by accident that Dusty Miller 'Silverdust' will live outside.. This plant is three years old and is huge!

The Cyperus Alternifolius Plant  (Umbrella Palm) reaches a height of around 4 foot.  It is claimed to be hardy here and able to reach heights of 13- 16 feet, but I have not seen this. It dies back in the winter and the growing season is not long enough to obtain much height.

Aechmea blanchetiana ‘Orange’ is one of my favorite plants. I fell in love with this plant on my first trip to the Florida Keys. I searched forever to find one to purchase. The only places they could be found  were wholesale sites and landscape businesses. I was finally able to locate a lady living in Florida that was selling them on eBay. It is very low maintenance and needs full sun for best coloring. It turns completely green when brought inside for the winter, but will quickly return to a beautiful orange when put back outside in the spring.

Bougainvillea and sun coleuses are in large cobalt blue pots throughout the garden and around the house for an extra pop of color.

Sun Tolerant Coleus come in so many beautiful rich colors and are able to tolerate full sun.

The black elephant ear is new for me this year. It is in a large pot that will be wintered indoors. I think they are supposed to be cold hardy in this zone, but my mother has not had any luck leaving them out through the winter.

 I hope you have enjoyed the quick walk through of my garden! 😊 It has been a battle with storms and insects lately, but I think I am beginning to get ahead!

The banana trees, gingers, and cannas are just starting to grow and fill in the area. August - October is usually when the garden is at it's peak!

*Updated Garden Tours

2019 Garden Tour here

2020 Garden Tour here

2021 Garden tour here

Thanks for taking my garden tour!



  1. I love your tropical garden. I live in Virginia and I am in the 7b/8 zone, just like you. I can’t believe that you were able to do such a great job with all these tropical looking plants in your garden. Thanks so much for sharing your list and pictures of your plants. It has been really helpful to me to start bringing some tropical life to my back yard. I am trying several things in containers this year to see how they do in my area. I am going to lay out a true garden plan for the next year and will attempt to plant some in the ground if they do well in my yard this year. You have given me hope to make a tropical garden at my own house. So many people tell me that I just can’t do that here.

  2. Thank you and you are so welcome! I am making changes this year to try to give it more of a Balinese type feel. Staining the pergola, hanging curtains, adding about 30 new perennial plants, and putting up a tiki umbrella are just a few of the changes I have made. :) I hope to post pics and more details soon.

    1. I would love to see pictures of what you do next! I am about to take a landscape design course at my local Botanical Garden so that I can plan my landscape this winter & get started working in the spring on some flower beds.

      I did a lot of tropicals in containers in my yard this summer to try out some of the plants. My elephant ears did great, but my Canna Lilies got eaten by leaf rollers & then possibly Japanese beetles. I think the Japanese Beetles are also what got to my hardy hibiscus plants.

      I love using your garden for inspiration!

    2. Landscaping classes sound like so much fun! I am working on getting a post together for a garden update. Between the extremely hot temperatures, insects, and lack of rain, it has been a rough summer on my plants!

  3. What a great article! I am in Hot Springs and this is so helpful! I can't wait until next spring to add these to my yard. If you have anymore recent pictures and info, I would love to see it. Do you have a facebook?

    1. Thank you! Glad you found some inspiration for your garden! Here is a link to my latest post on the garden. https://www.livelifebehappytravel.com/2019/08/how-to-have-tropical-garden-in-non.html I do have a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/livelifebehappy.us/

  4. Hello I would like to contact you. I live in the ozarks. I am trying to plan a wedding. My fiance and I are both from tropical locations. We love your garden, and we would like to pay you to have our wedding in your garden.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hello! You can message me through the contact tap at the top of the page. πŸ™‚

  5. Oh my goodness! Beautiful and well done job. I love all the plants. I see your mango tree in the pot. I grow 3 from seeds here in South Carolina close to the Georgia line zone 8. We installed a pool last may and I want a tropical garden. I am actually from Venezuela South America and we had all kinds of tropical plants back home. I would love to share photos of the area I am starting. I got 3 palmetto palm our state plant. Great inspirational pictures

    1. Thank you so much! I would love to see your pool and garden area!

  6. I am in Sherwood Ar. Your plants are so healthy. I would like to know where you are & how you prepared your soil. We have clay in our area . Not much luck amending mine.

    1. Hello! I am in the Texarkana area. We also have clay. I have added tons of a sandy type soil and lots of compost.

  7. i love love love this.. i just told my 70+ year old parents to get ready this is what im going for.. they are like you.. such green thumbs

  8. I live in Dallas Tx but have land in Arkansas in Malvern! can’t wait to make my tropical garden over there I will keep learning from your gorgeous tropical garden! Do you mind me asking where do you buys all your tropical plants? Do you think I can bring some from here in Texas to Arkansas? Hope to heard from you soon thanks so much God blessed you! 🌴🌿🌲🌷🌸πŸͺ΄πŸŒ΅

  9. I acquire plants from various sources. The possibility of bringing your plants from Texas to Arkansas will be based on your location within Texas. Arkansas falls under zone 7b, so your plants will have to be semi hardy.

  10. Wow, this is great, a real inspiration! I'm in 6A, but planning to start a tropical garden next spring.