A tropical paradise in progress
Victoria Educational Gardens is a work in progress

May 01, 2008


Edited by Charla Borchers Leon, Victoria County Master Gardener

A thick canopy of tall palms, lush green undergrowth, vivid colors of exotic flowers, an occasional monkey swinging from the trees – all of these things come to mind when thinking of a tropical garden. One of the largest gardens at the Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG for short) is a tropical garden. In years to come this might well describe your experience touring this garden, minus the monkeys probably. But, now only in its second year of growth, it hasn’t quite reached this goal.


The Victoria County Master Gardeners’ project, now in its seventh year, has turned a barren piece of land surrounding the old Officer’s Club at the airport into an amazing variety of gardens, unique structures, walkways and educational kiosks. Many of the gardens are mature: their plantings reaching full growth and brimming with flowers, birds and butterflies. The tropical garden, which surrounds the huge Koi pond, bog and waterfall, is filling in but will take a few more years to look mature.


Designing the tropical garden required considerations of many aspects including temperature ranges, drainage, wind conditions, artistic design and potential usage patterns. These are also issues that need to be considered in home landscaping. The area at the airport seems to get hotter and sunnier than closer in town. That is great for a tropical garden, but the downside is the winter weather is colder and many plants freeze in the gardens that won’t necessarily freeze in a protected neighborhood.
An aerial view of the expansion side of VEG on the eastside of the Officer’s Club (across from the newly renovated control tower at the airport) shows the tropical garden in and around the pond and the pedestrian bridge just below the patio.
Visitors to VEG often view the pond and tropical foliage from the bench provided for relaxation.  Notice some of the plants have really taken off while others are still developing.
The wind is also an issue at the airport. Because there are few structures to block the wind, many plants with tender foliage have less chance of surviving in that environment. Drainage and watering problems were considered in the plantings in the tropical garden. Many of the initial plants were planted before a lengthy wet spell last year. Some plants, like the blue bird of paradise, and the white bird of paradise have not thrived. The queen palms and a Canary Island palm look great but a triangle palm died. Part of gardening is planning what might do well in a garden, but a lot of gardening is experimental.

Aside from the palms, the yellow bamboo is looking good and has probably tripled in size since it was planted a year ago. Many of the bog plants have also taken off. Hibiscus plants that froze back during the winter are starting to come back, as are the cannas and the plumerias. The plumerias were dug up and housed in the greenhouse for the winter and have recently been replanted.

Aside from the educational element of each garden at Victoria Educational Gardens, there is also the esthetic and functional aspect of the gardens. The tropical garden surrounds the pond structures and is in between the patio and the large gazebo that can be used for weddings. How the pond will be viewed from the patio, and how a bride might look walking over the bridge of the pond to the gazebo had to be considered. Plants, like the Canary Island palm, that eventually would be too big were used only where important views would not be obstructed.


Master Gardeners are always working at VEG, maintaining and improving the gardens, propagating plants in the greenhouse and hosting tours, to name a few things. VEG is an educational showcase, a demonstration garden, built by Master Gardeners supporting Texas AgriLife Extension Service’s slogan of “Improving Lives. Improving Texas.” The tropical garden is just one of 17 mini gardens at VEG providing information that can improve your life and improve Texas.

Many of the things that have been done throughout the 17 mini gardens this spring are listed in the accompanying rules and tools for May. 

A more mature tropical garden in the coastal landscape of Master Gardener Barbara Sparkman is plush with a thick canopy of palms and lush green undergrowth. The triangle palm towers over a plumeria and deep green foliage of a blue bird of paradise.
For your added knowledge, the list of plants that are considered “tropical” – and were planted in the garden at VEG are the Canary Island date palm, queen palms, Chinese fan palms, and a triangle palm, which was lost to nature as was the white bird of paradise and the blue bird of paradise. The clumping Buddha bamboo, macho ferns, Xanadu philodendron, banana, cannas, gingers, plumerias, fire cracker fern, hibiscus and nandina are all thriving in varying stages and degrees. Another thing they all have in common is that they each have a plant marker for identification purposes.

So come visit the gardens soon to see these plants – and remember it won’t be long before the tropical garden is really tropical. Oh yeah, and say hi to the monkeys.

Ground Rules and Tools for May

• It is time to plant caladium tubers, impatiens, coleus, begonias and pentas in shady areas.
• Replace or add mulch materials to flower beds to conserve moisture and reduce weed growth.
• Proceed to sow seeds such as sunflower, zinnia, morning glory, portulaca, marigold, cosmos, periwinkles, and gourds directly into the soil.
• Summer flowering bulbs such as achimenes, cannas, dahlias can also be planted in May.
• Cut off old blossoms on spring flowering annuals, such as pansies, snapdragons, stock and calendulas, to prolong the flowering season.
• On newly planted annual and perennial plants, pinching back the terminal growth will result in shorter, more compact, well-branched plants with more flowers.
• Check for insects and diseases.  Destroy badly infested plants. Spider mites can be especially bad at this time.  Use a chemical or organic control or insecticidal soap.
• Continue to fertilize roses every four to six weeks with small amounts of balanced fertilizer.
The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.