Welcome to the Island

by | Jul 29, 2017 | Features

Create a tropical getaway at home

Laurie McGovern, right, has been working with tropical plants for 40 years and has been running Shore Blooms for 16 years. Anne Marie Cutter, left, and Scotty Martin, center, are her right-hand employees.

Tropical islands are some of the most peaceful and relaxing places on earth. Unfortunately, their level of accessibility is depressingly low unless you happen to live on one.

Luckily, there’s a way to create your own island getaway right in your backyard. When the stress of everyday life overcomes you, you’ll have your own personal oasis in which to recuperate and find solace.

Tropical plants are known for their low tolerance of cold weather, of which Maryland has plenty during the winter months. However, some are able to survive the cold season, given proper care.

It’s hard to know which are cold-hardy and which aren’t, so Laurie McGovern of Shore Blooms, in Stevnsville, explained a little bit about what you can and can not do with the tropical plants she specializes in.

Her stock is brought up by the truckload from Florida and she has been working with tropical plats for 40 years. She’s operated Shore Blooms for 16, with the help of Anne Marie Cutter and Scotty Martin.

Palm Trees

If you asked a person on the street the first thing that comes to mind when they hear “tropical oasis,” the immediate answer would likely be “palm tree.” Palm trees are a necessity in creating an island vibe in your garden. According to McGovern, the Windmill Palm is the way to go when it comes to palm trees that will survive the winter.

To winter them, she said it can be helpful to wrap the foliage with plastic or burlap to protect it, but it’s not necessary.

“I’ve seen windmill palms with snow on the foliage where they didn’t die,” she said.

Unfortunately, lately Maryland has had some wet winters. “When [Windmill Palms] are dormant, they don’t like wet feet,” said McGovern. The moisture can cause rotting in the roots and the windmill palm won’t survive.

McGovern said this past winter was a dry one. however, so next season she will have Windmill Palms in stock once again.

Basjoo Banana trees are cold-hardy and can grow up to 10 feet. McGovern prefers them to Windmill Palms and said they can even produce small fruits after four years or so.

Banana Trees

Tropical banana trees are another plant unable to survive through Maryland winters. However, many Japanese varieties of banana trees, such as Basjoo, Dwarf Banana and Pink Banana, are more cold hardy and can be a beautiful addition to your tropical oasis.

McGovern has experience with Basjoo and said they do consistently come back from cold temperatures and can grow 8-10 feet in the same year they are planted; she even said she favored them over Windmill Palms. She said you would cut them down in the winter, just as you would a perennial plant, and they like full sun and plenty of water.


Hibiscus is another telltale indicator of a tropical environment.  Their bright colors and wide blooms add a particularly peaceful feeling to a garden. Unfortunately, true tropical hibiscus plats are too delicate to survive a winter in the ground– they’d have to be potted and moved indoors.

However, there are coldhardy strains of hibiscus that can remain outdoors and add just as much color to a garden. Hardy Perennial Hibiscus come in a large assortment of colors and are similar to tropical hibiscus. Their blooms are a bit rounder, and can be the size of a dinner plate. Hardy Hibiscus Shrubs are just what they sound like; they have similar blooms, but smaller, and can grow up to ten feet tall and wide. Swamp Hibiscus have the most distinct blooms. They come in different colors, but have longer, narrower and more separate petals.

“The problem with Perennial Hibiscus,” said McGovern, “is that they only bloom for a month. Tropical Hibiscus will bloom from April to December.”

However, despite the short blooming cycle, Perennial Hibiscus have the advantage of returning consistently in the summer.

Canna plants, which come in red, yellow and orange and can also have colorful leaves for a pop of color even when not blooming.


Canna is type of tropical flower that can survive in the cold, comes in many different sizes and has a verity of colors- red, yellow or orange blooms and the leave can also have color.

Depending on the strain, Cana plats can grow from three to over six feet tall. Varieties such as the Bengal Tiger Canna have colorful leaves; they’ll be a pop of color even when not blooming.

“I would call this a tender perennial,” McGovern said, because there is a special and delicate winter process. She said during the winter you should dig it up and replant it in a cool place, such as underneath your house.
She suggested Mexican Petunias as another type of cold-hardy tropical flower to add to your oasis.

Mexican Petunias, which are cold-hardy perennials, can add a tropical spritz of purple to your oasis.