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"It’s just a summer love affair," by the Whistling Gardener

A dramatic entryway created by large containers planted with tall, show stopping papyrus.  Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
A dramatic entryway created by large containers planted with tall, show stopping papyrus. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

I love summer tropicals. The drama they create is unsurpassed by anything the northwest has to offer.

Take my red Abyssinian bananas for example. In the month of May, or even early June, I always plant a couple of pots up with a red banana in the center as the focal point of the container.

If it’s early enough in the season, I will start with a puny little one-gallon plant that is only 12 to 18 inches tall. If I don’t get around to planting the container until later in June, then I will spring for a five gallon one that will cost me as much as $50. That might sound like a lot of money but I always remember that I am going to get five months’ worth of pleasure out of my relationship which is only $10 a month. That’s a pretty cheap date in my book.

By the end of the season, my bananas will be six to eight feet tall and at that point it is time to break up and go our separate ways. Yes, the red banana will be discarded onto the compost pile (unless you want to park the Corvette outside for the winter and store the banana inside, which might be a tough sell for the spouse).

Another drama queen that I always find room for is the giant Egyptian Papyrus. While I have the advantage of storing these over winter in my greenhouses so I can start with a well-established specimen, smaller ones can be purchased in late May that will only be three feet tall - but again, by the end of the season they will top out at eight feet with green stalks topped with sparkler-like grassy tufts. They remind me of fireworks and delight me to no end.

At the end of summer Miss Papyrus and I say our goodbyes and agree to meet up again the following year, same time, same station.

Taros, or Elephant Ears, as they are sometimes called are yet another one of my favorite thrillers to plant for the summer. They come in many forms, from green leaves to dark smoky purple ones with violet stems and sometimes even red stems. They can form a large clump by the end of the summer and are the personification of drama in the garden.

Like the papyrus, taros are moisture lovers and can actually grow in water so they are a super addition to the pond if you are fortunate enough to have one in your garden. At the end of the summer I usually try to take a few divisions for the following season and throw out the mother plant. You can often keep these in a cool basement for the winter (never let them freeze) and wake them up in late April for a jump-start on the season. Or if you don’t want to hassle with a long-term relationship, just pitch them out and start fresh the following spring.

I know it pains some gardeners to throw out large specimens that they have nurtured all summer long, but if we just look at them as a summer fling it’s not so hard to break up and move on. Nothing ever really dies in the plant world, it just takes on a different form (i.e. compost) which eventually nourishes yet another type of vegetation. It is the penultimate form of recycling.

Go have a summer tryst with one of these beauties and I guarantee you will get the same thrill I do every year.

Sunnyside will be hosting a free class, “Growing Fall Veggies,” Saturday August 25, 2018, at 10:00 am.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at

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