Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West and the delights of tropical gardening

Sometimes I think I’ve figured out some order in the universe, but then I find myself in Florida.

Susan Orlean, The Orchid Thief

I have always been obsessed with gardening. Before moving to Florida, we planted a half-acre vegetable garden full of bizarre heirloom varieties. I fell in love with rose gardening, and survived many depressing winters by reading and re-reading the David Austin catalog. And then there was my hosta collection that you could lose a small child in. (I wish I could grow hostas here, but they require a cold season.)

It wasn’t until we moved to Florida that I discovered how much unrealized potential I had as a gardener. We drove to Key West our first year here, and I saw in the gardens of Ernest Hemingway’s house my life’s dream. A walled garden and paths with water features and towering tropical plants. My love affair with tropical gardening had begun.

Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West (view from the side)
Hemingway’s house (view from the gardens)
Totally unrelated to gardening, but this is where Hemingway would write.
Also totally unrelated to gardening, but this is Elise with a parrot named Margarita that could do tricks, owned by a random man on the street in Key West who graciously allowed her to play with him.

I’ve collected a lot of tropical plants since then, but I realize now that what I need is a bona fide garden plan. Tropical plants are much larger than the perennials you can buy elsewhere in the United States. You can’t just smash them together and enjoy serendipitous pairings. And gardening in Florida is very much about managing micro-climates. I learned the hard way not to plant tender species on the northwest corner of our property. The air from the ocean does a lot of work to insulate plants in the “colder” months.

Anyway, I have been bookmarking a lot of articles and videos on tropical gardens that I find impressive (and in some cases, strange in a wonderful sort of way). So I decided to share some of them. Fall down the tropical gardening rabbit hole with me!

From Fine Gardening magazine, A 40-Year Labor of Tropical Gardening Love, Part 1 and Part 2. These Heliconia rostrata (lobster claw plant) will definitely find a home in my dream garden somewhere. See also this article on plants in Hawaii.

Photo credit: Fine Gardening

There is an area of the jungle we’ve cleared out in the back corner of our property that I am planning on filling with ferns. I can’t think of anything else that would grow under so dense a canopy. This article on growing a fern dell is amazing. It talks about how to arrange different ferns by size and ferns of different colors. There is a path through a large grouping of ferns at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park that I plan on trying to replicate. My own little Jurassic Park.

This is a video tour of the Sunken Gardens in St Petersburg, Florida (for inspiration). The Tropical Gardening channel on YouTube is fantastic.

I love orchids and have several growing in my garden. Living in a place where orchids can be something other than a houseplant is such a thrill. Here is a tour of the National Orchid Garden in Singapore that is more than a little humbling.

I was also amused by this video of ten orchids that mimic the faces and bodies of animals.

Okay, back to stuff I can realistically plant. My friend Daryl in California has inspired me to get into growing plumeria. There is an amazing plumeria nursery in California named Jungle Jack’s that I plan on doing mail orders for plumeria from. Here is a video tour of two gardens where plumeria is used as a focal point.

San Antonio is not quite the same climate that we have here, but I enjoyed seeing this courtyard garden inspired by the owner’s trips to Mexico. It’s quite beautiful.

For fun, here is a tour of the collection of carnivorous plants at Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Elise loves carnivorous plants.

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