Zone Envy


I didn't think it would happen to me.  What do I have to complain about?  It never snows, it hardly ever freezes or even frosts over around here.  Lots of people are worse off, zone-wise.

But Florida!  Aaaaahhhhhhh…. In the middle of March, the bougainvillea was in full bloom.  A single tangerine hibiscus petal was later than my hand.  Brugmansia flourished.  Fruit hung from the trees. Plants that I had only known as houseplants grew outdoors as weirdly oversized landscape features.  The jungle pressed in from all sides.


People who winter there told me, "When I leave for the summer, I just hang my orchids in the trees."  And sure enough, every house had a tree decorated with orchids the way you'd hang birdseed-covered pine cones on your evergreens at Christmastime.

And so it was not long before I was thinking, "Why, yes.  If I lived here, I would surely hang orchids in the trees."  And collect giant hibiscus, and grow bougainvillea in every one of its crazy colors, and plant a citrus grove.  And because gardens in Florida can be overwhelmingly green with all that jungle foliage, I was already imagining how I'd fill the garden around the pool with insane,over-the-top color by using all those crazy new coleus, lots of variegated canna, and Setcreasea 'Purple Heart,' among others. And of course, I'd put in an herb garden with enough mint and lemongrass to keep me in fresh cocktail ingredients all year long. And I'm pretty sure there are a lot of interesting datura and salvias they could be growing around there, so I would surely try those too.


I mean, I was making plant lists! I even went so far as to page through Hot Plants for Cool Climates when I got home, foolishly imagining that I might just go ahead and disregard the chilly grey weather entirely and just get tropical, right here in the Pacific Northwest.

But I'm over it.  Really I am.  Because we all know what would happen if I ever did get my fantasy tropical Florida garden. 

I'd start complaining about how the salty air makes it impossible to grow anything.  And the hurricanes.  And the bugs. You know I would.  So I return, with some regret, to my regularly-scheduled garden, but not before pausing for a minute to wonder if it would be legal to have some flamingos and peacocks in this fantasy garden of mine.  Because they're probably no trouble to take care of at all….


  1. The main thing that prevents me from wanting to become a southern gardener is fire ants! Felder Rushing told me to just walk around them, but even doing that brings hazards. They don’t like vibrations and if you walk too close, they’re all over you! Anywho, zone envy is still something I deal with, and it’s any zone higher than 5.

  2. Sounds like a great trip!

    I have severe zone envy, severe. I want to live in a climate where I can grow zantedeschia aethiopica outside, and I don’t care if it is invasive. I want to see that plant everywhere.

    But we northerners do get to experience something warmer zone gardeners do not–the completely mad summer bacchanal. It’s only as good as it is because it’s fleeting.

  3. Go visit in the summer. You’ll change your mind. Give me four distinct seasons and I’m happy. Summer all the time is not my idea of heaven.

  4. We bought a small (1/5) acre property in central Florida a few years back. We get down 4-5 times a year. Its fun to have a garden in a completely different zone. I planted a handful of Proteas that seem to be doing well. Awaiting flowers.

    Will go down for a week in early April. It will be nice but its so wonderful in the DC area then….

  5. Funny, I envy Pacific Northwest gardeners!

    My brief visit (years ago) to Sacramento/San Francisco in July pointed out just how brutal southern summers are. This time of year is wonderful, but I’ll be hating it in a couple months, for sure. Just remember that the next time you’re coveting the tropical Florida paradise.

    Boy-howdy, it’s not a comfortable scene in August…

  6. I love growing natives, so indeed, no zone envy for me…
    I love the change of seasons, and I surely would miss our cold days when I would live in a Mediterranean climate.

  7. I loved this post. You and I both suffer from what a good friend calls Zone Denial Disorder or ZDD. It’s what prompts me to grow tropical hibiscus and a key lime tree and specimen croten here in the Sierra foothills where it snows…

  8. I must admit I have bi-zonal envy. I live in an area -9b- just a bit too cold to grow bananas and some other tropicals I lust after (can you say Nyctanthes arbor tristis, vanilla orchid, plumeria and ylang-ylang?), but then I also lust after colder climate plants. It’s way too warm to grow peonies, and most tulips are not compatible with my temperate winters. However, I do get lots of benefits for my zone with citrus, Japanese maples, crabapples and I have a Brunfelsia jamaicensis that I have overwintered outside close to my house that supposedly doesn’t like anything below 60 degrees, yet tolerates that fact I have light frosts just fine. Funny that.

  9. When ever I visit Santa Barbara I get zonal envy. – Florida not so much.
    Santa Barbara is only about 7 hours down the coast from me but what a remarkable horticultural change.
    I also think the surrounding architecture has a lot to do with it.
    There is something very charming about the down town spanish style stucco cottages mixed in with the California wooden craftsman homes, – all of them planted with wonderful eclectic mediterranean plants.
    I’d move down there in a heart beat if the real estate was within my financial reach.

  10. It took me and my beau five months to rid my tiny yard here in zone 9a of all the banannas – go for it if you have the room, Elizabeth. I like my bougainvillea, but I must attack it every month or so or it takes over. I wear gloves while doing so; when I did not, a thorn got me, leaving the tip. It looks like it may work its way out this year – only two years. New Orleans is lush now, my ferns and ginger getting taller, while the plants in my little pond are escaping and growing in the beds around it. The lushness here is wonderful, though I am periodically overwhelmed by the maintenance.

  11. Yep, it’s always fun for gardeners to visit other climates. I enjoy seeing how gardeners in other zones work out the combinations of plants and display their regional traditions.

    In north Florida (We’re in zone 9 now, but the line between zone 8 and 9 drawn in 1990 ran between the living room and the kitchen in our house!), we do have a short winter, but it’s not cold enough to freeze the soil, so no tulips. But ooh the winter veggies are great and the compost “works” year-round. The tropics start south of W. Palm Beach–that’s where “things” are really different. But throughout the state we have wet and dry seasons and temperate plants (and temperate gardeners) have to be really tough and tolerant to survive.

  12. I’ve lived in a lot of climates and my mom’s always gardened, so I can safely say (as a born and bred yankee) that it’s not all fun in the sun down here.

    Last year, I planted heirloom Roma tomatoes in Zone 8b … in May. In the shade, because I figured that my Romas did well in Oregon from May through September on my apartment balcony, which only received about 6 hours of sun a day.

    And I neglected to consider that the temperature in my hilltop Oregon apartment was in the 80’s for one week a year. It’s March 16th, and we’ve already had a few WEEKS in the 80’s here in south Texas.

    You can guess how well my harvest turned out — or didn’t. I don’t have zone envy because I’m still struggling to figure out how to make things that I like grow in my current zone.

  13. We have neighbors with two peacocks here in Oregon and they are a royal pain in the butt. They fly over our fence and eat our greens and other plants in our gardens. They also leave us “little presents” all over the place. I am constantly running after them to fly back over the fence.

  14. “When I leave for the summer …”?

    No place is paradise, really. Every place has its bad seasons.

    At least where it’s cold, it’s easy to keep warm naturally when you go outside (wear layers and move a lot).

    Where it’s hot, what can you do, besides strip to your skivvies? And even that won’t cool you below the air temperature.

    Winters here are cold and summers hot, but we don’t have earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, poisonous snakes, or pest insects like fire ants, and we also don’t have the kind of crazy, compressed population looking for “paradise” that makes everybody rude to everybody else.

    I’ll be staying here with my snow scoop and my roof rake, thanks much.

  15. Whenever I visit a year-round warm place at first I’m envious of all the “houseplants” that grow naturally outside but then I start to miss deciduous trees. I would hate to have to spend any length of time in a place that can’t grow them majestic and lush in summer, archictectual in winter and crazy colorful in autumn.

  16. No Zone envy here. A visiting semester to Sun Tan U left me craving to wear a sweater when October hit! If I ever win a trip to FL I’ll send you the ticket. I would never leave enjoying all 4 seasons.

  17. W lived near the equator for a couple of years and, while I loved the opportunity to plant a tropical garden (papaya, mango, ginger, ylang-ylang, orchids, plumeria, bougainevillea in every crazy colour, hibiscus, and a 6-foot gardenia bush), I used to sometimes lie awake at night pretending that the roar of the airconditioner was the sound of a cold March wind, and that I would need a sweater in the morning.

    Four seasons for me, definitely, but I would prefer something like the climate where I grew up — no hard frosts, but a cool damp winter where most things grow easily. Can we special-order our climates yet?

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