I’ve decided to wrap up the last three days of this Plantsman’s Advent Calendar with three distinctive and vastly different plants. Today’s plant is also the first and only tropical species on the list. Let me explain.
Many gardening friends have frequently heard me espouse my barely tepid interest in tropical plants. “If it’s not hardy, throw it back,” I’ve often retorted, suggesting that the pool of plants I cultivate need not include those that can’t withstand a brutal Iowa winter. I’ve never had much of a knack for tropicals as houseplants either, much preferring to grow plants in the free outdoors than the ever-too-dry containers of my bedroom and living room. While I like the idea of living among my plants, I’d just assume live in the garden instead.
But ever in search of a plant that makes my head turn, I’m smitten with Crinum ‘Menehune’ (marketed under the name Purple Dream™) for its sultry, seductive, and purple foliage set against sprays of pink flowers. Crinums are pretty awesome to begin with, especially if you live in the south (shout out to my buddy Jenks Farmer, the Crinum dude). Beyond the tenderness of Zone 8 and above, this plant has great potential to light up a container garden with two dashes of zing like you couldn’t believe. While I don’t take charge of making container gardens at our nursery, I’ve always had opinions about how I’d like to see them done (hint, hint mom). Random trivia–the name Menehune comes from an elusive, forest-dwelling, dark-skinned race of Hawaiian island natives.
This Sean Callahan hybrid of C. oliganthum x C. procerum ‘Splendens’ may not make a huge play in the American market, given its limited hardiness, but it’s well worth the effort to find one. Despite my advocacy of hardy garden plants for temperate gardens, I think there is a real place for tropicals in garden design, a way to spice things up, change up the texture, and artistically transport the viewer to another environment. Whether that happens in the open garden near a bog or in a large container to accommodate its 20″ x 20″ dimensions, I’m open to the possibilities.