By Jana Bryan Wunderle, JMMDS

With three feet of freshly fallen snow upon us here in Vermont, we take a magical tour of the tropical plants JMMDS recently installed for a residential design project in the British Virgin Islands…

A view to lift the spirits: The British Virgin Islands. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Our recent residential design project has taken us to paradise. Getting to know the beautiful tropical plants of the British Virgin Islands has been like a dream. I think to myself, “How is it that I spend time designing with palms and bougainvillea?” as I look out the window and see snow covering the ground and trees. It is fantastic to imagine and create a garden in a tropical climate, and then to travel there to help with the installation!

Plumeria obtusa, commonly known as frangipani, and related to oleander, another poisonous beauty. Photo: World News.

I had traveled to Brazil a few years ago, so I already had some favorites, including Plumeria. The mid-sized tree has a very clean form and strong texture. The fragrance is so beautiful that we would place the fallen flowers on small plates around the house to enjoy it indoors.

The variety of houseplants we care for in the northeast is a mini-lesson in tropical plants. I am familiar with Ficus benjamina (weeping fig) and Sansevieria trifasciata (snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue) as tame houseplants. In the British Virgin Islands, they require significantly more space… to put it mildly.

This indoor ficus was feeling pretty good about itself until it saw this photo of its tropical cousin. L: Small potted ficus. Photo: Alpine Floral Inc. R: A mature Ficus benjamina in BVI. Photo: JMMDS.

The landscape designer asks the same questions no matter where the garden is: What feeling should the landscape convey? What texture or color is needed in this corner or that entry? What sunlight or water conditions exist? The plants available to fulfill these needs in tropical climates are quite exciting. Faced with a steep slope in one area on this site, we imagined planting a “waterfall” of bougainvillea punctuated with native cacti.

L: A mass of Bougainvillea spectabilis, which lends itself beautifully to cascading down a hillside. Photo: Wikipedia. R: It is easy to see the similarity of this bromeliad to its relative, the pineapple. Photo: Wikipedia.

We placed bold and fascinating bromeliads at the entrances where they could be appreciated by arriving guests. The plant palettes and combinations complement the home’s interior. Contrasting foliage plants with cacti and agave, along with select palm trees, reflects the excitement and energy of the climate. The varieties of palm trees that exist are almost endless: Bismarck, Royal, Indian Date, Silver, Chinese Fan, and others. Nothing says ‘tropical paradise’ like a palm! The palms will be used in the landscape as features, framing and complementing the views.

L: New planting of Christmas palm, Adonidia merrillii. Photo: Jana Bryan Wunderle. R: Fronds of Bismarck palm. Photo: Mark Peters Landscape Company.

After all this thought and planning, we traveled to the property to help with the first phase of installation. (I had never really had a chance to plant in December before!) The plants were stunning as they waited for the next step.

Collection of tropical plant materials awaiting planting. Photo: Jana Bryan Wunderle.

Once they were in the right places, we fine-tuned their arrangement, swapped a few around, and then planted, with the help of a hard-working crew. Plants always add that finished look right away. I can hardly wait for the gardens to grow in and become what we’ve dreamed.

Mature planting of Allamanda hendersonii, another favorite. Photo: Jana Bryan Wunderle.

Editor’s note: Seems we’re not the only ones pining for a jolt of Caribbean color! Check out this exhibit opening this weekend at the New York Botanical Garden.

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Fred says:

    If you need help with the planting next time, I am more than available!

  • Judy says:

    Oh, what lovely pictures! How wonderful to have a project in such a beautiful place. Looking forward to seeing pictures of the final installation.

  • Laurie Danforth says:

    Who’s the lucky woman to have a job that takes you to the Caribbean in the winter? I look forward to seeing photos of the installation as it progresses.