designed for the way women work.

vaccinating a dog

Marianne Willburn: Growing and Caring for Tropical Plants

Category: Flower Gardens, Plant Ideas & Info, Presenting "The Curious Gardener"

Marianne in her Virginia garden

Like many gardeners Marianne Willburn started small. First she had window boxes and containers, then she moved to a tiny duplex where she managed to squeeze in a small vegetable garden next to the parking area. As she and her young family moved to larger properties, hopscotching from California to London to Maryland and finally Virginia, the space given over to gardens kept getting bigger.

But that’s where the similarity to other gardeners ends, because Marianne’s ambitions just kept growing, well beyond the average gardener’s dreams. The self-described Type A (make that ‘Triple A’ in her words) personality eventually gave into a budding love of tropical and subtropical plants and she began building a tropically-accented garden in her non-tropical, Zone 7 garden in Virginia. Twelve foot banana plants are just one of the many scene stealers there.

After 10 years of tropical trial and error, amassing a wealth of practical as well as academic knowledge, Marianne wrote a book called Tropical Plants and How To Love Them, published by Cool Springs Press in 2021.  The book was recently shortlisted for the British Garden Media Guild’s Peter Seabrook Award for Best Practical Book of the Year. Quite an achievement, especially for an American author.

Most books on tropical plants that are available today were written 15-20 years ago and the material is presented from a highly specialized perspective, according to Marianne, not necessarily for the average gardener. “Those excellent books, written by such tropical pioneers as Will Giles, Susan Roth and Dennis Schrader make up a great deal of my reference library and are incredibly valuable to gardeners wishing to delve deeply,” she says, but acknowledges that some people don’t want that much detail. Some of the oldest reference books are in black and white, which doesn’t bother Marianne, but most of us are accustomed to seeing images in color. Her book is full of them.

Marianne describes her book as one that makes the idea of using tropical and subtropical plants more accessible to temperate gardeners who are tempted to work with these gorgeous plants to create something unusual in their gardens.

Womanswork High Performance Gloves

Marianne grew up in the north central California foothills, and moved as a young adult to Southern California, where tropical plants were more commonplace.  But, as she says, sometimes they looked a little worse for wear at the nurseries and she was not drawn to grow them in any of her gardens. After moving East, where tropical plants are considered more exotic, she started seeing them used as accent pieces in gardens and this slowly pulled her in. She began attending tropical plant conferences. As she became more knowledgeable she began to fall in love.

Carrying on a relationship with tropical plants becomes a metaphor and the organizing principle in Marianne’s new book. There are plants you just want to have a summer romance with (Sexy, Exciting, Fleeting) and those you commit to for the long-term (Strong, Gorgeous, Versatile), and there are others in between. She wants the reader to become as besotted as she is.  It’s fun and playful and it seems consistent with this showy, lush and sometimes fickle category of plants.

I looked up Canna Lilies in her book, because that’s a plant I’ve started to grow and overwinter myself in my Zone 6 northern garden. She classifies Cannas in the category of “Best Friend” defined as “Tropical plants that don’t need a greenhouse, living room, or pampering to overwinter in a dormant state.” She goes into detail about how and when to store them for the winter and how to ‘wake them up’ in the spring. It’s full of great information and photos.

Enter our giveaway of Marianne’s book by leaving a comment below or by visiting us on Instagram or Facebook. Also check out Marianne’s first book, Big Dreams, Small Garden, which she wrote to encourage other gardeners not to wait for their ideal home and property to begin their gardening life. It was published in 2017.

49 thoughts on “Marianne Willburn: Growing and Caring for Tropical Plants

  1. Jane Dalier says:

    I live in southern Mississippi. I’m excited about what Marianne is doing as it would blend into my garden with ease. This book comes at the right time.

  2. Karen Cyr says:

    With the overall change in climate, tropical plants will be more tempting than ever to try. This book sounds like great encouragement to get started.

  3. Lisa Banik says:

    I’m in zone 6, and would love to add some tropical plants to both my indoor environment and outdoor in the Summer.
    This book intrigues me


    What would you recommend for zone 4, northern Wisconsin ? Would like to try something different next summer.

  5. Cynthia Herendeen says:

    my young adult daughter is developing an interest in tropical plants — indoor for now — until she has her own space. this looks like a good Christmas gift for her.

  6. Virginia White says:

    This is an area I’m really lacking in any indepth knowledge. I’d love to hear from someone with practical experience and this sounds like just the ticket

  7. Georgia Falkenberg says:

    I am skeptical of being able to overwinter tropicals outside in zone 4 (northwestern Indiana), but would love to know if/how she thinks this can be done!

  8. Sue Kristiansen says:

    I love using tropical plants in my garden and would love to receive this book!

  9. Donna Stone says:

    Sounds like a wonderful book would love to read and learn more.

  10. Rebecca M Bruns says:

    THANK YOU for the offer. Here in San Antonio TX HILL COUNTRY,, we have weather that changes constantly. A book for Tropicals would be truly appreciated!!

  11. Patricia Porter says:

    Every spring I haul out large bananas, rubber trees, Norfolk Island Pines, and other tropicals. And every fall I carry them back in.
    I love the look of them on the patio. And I would like to read Marianne Willburn’s book!

  12. Chris Rakolta says:

    My gardens tend to expand every year, and I’m loving the idea of adding in some tropical for added interest in my not-tropical zone too! I’m also a ‘triple A personality,” lol.

  13. Contrary to popular belief, I believe Tropical plants would look lovely here in my New England Garden….and I would love to learn more about the growing and needs of such plants

  14. Susan Dollard says:

    I work in a greenhouse full of tropical plants in upstate NY. I would love a copy of Marianne’s book. It would be the perfect reference.

  15. Just completing a new border garden and would like to include sub-tropicals.

  16. Joe SWITZER says:

    Love your products. High quality / American made.

  17. Donna Lane says:

    I’ve been adding tropicals to my garden and container plantings for a number of years and am especially in love with Colocasias. I’m looking forward to reading Marianne’s book and comparing her experience with my own. I also plan to review it for my weekly gardening column – The Addicted Gardener.

  18. I have been a subscriber to Womanswork catalog and online information for several year and find it extremely informative and entertaining. I coordinate the activities at a local Educational Community Garden and often share the information and offers with the volunteers at the garden. Your products are first class and we love the way they are defined for the job they are advertised for makes it easy for a new gardener to learn! Keep up the good work

  19. 60+ years ago I received a ‘Monstera Deliciosa’ (cut leaf Philodendron),from a friend and with a busylife, never quite learned how to care for it. The last couple of years I weathered the plants out of doors, (right location, zone 5), and plants have thrived! I was able to create multiple plants and offer them as ‘Friendship Gifts’ and charity Fundraisers! Still looking though, for the directions to know what I did, wrong or right! I would love to know how I might try a Camelia plant in my zone!

  20. Dianne Chandler says:

    Where can I get this book?

  21. Susan Albert says:

    I love tropicals and would welcome more information on overwintering them!

  22. Terri Davis says:

    I’d love to have this book! I have some tropicals, but I am a little afraid to invest in them too much since I live in texas. Maybe this book would give me more courage.

  23. Anne Marie McCormack says:

    I would love more information about growing these great plants1

  24. What are your best tips for overwintering tropicals? Currently mine hang out in my kitchen, but it is northern exposure and kind of chilly.

  25. Angela Kim says:

    I live in USDA Zone 10b and want to know about year round care to grow lush backyard garden.

  26. Lori Wyzykowski says:

    Wow, I already am interested to read and see what this interesting and creative woman has put together in her book!

  27. Susan Doyle says:

    While I appreciate the idea of tropical plants in a non tropical climate I don’t try to grow them at all except for an occasional plant or two. I believe it’s best to grow what likes to grow in my area. I will take a fern or trillium in my wooded lot over any banana or palm tree in my zone 5 climate. My beautiful Bougainvillea actually looked out of place for the 4 years I nurtured it – tropical sate best left as annuals in my opinion.

  28. I live in Northern New Mexico and I am trying to grow some plants indoors. It is high desert here outside and not much greenery. The green plants inside I think will be comforting. I am constantly learning and I love it.

  29. Sarah Green says:

    Ooh! Excited to see this as we move from zone 4 to 9 this year.

  30. We live in zone 9b on the coast and get heavy rains at time. Would love to learn more about how to handle this type of plant

  31. This will be a great asset for any gardeners’ library

  32. Maria Mcgillewie says:

    I’m in Northern Ireland and lmiss tropical plants, I’m inspired to try here in my garden

  33. Victoria Foster says:

    I’m here for the book giveaway. My daughter in law would love this.

  34. Terri Davis says:

    This book sounds fantastic!

  35. Terri Davis says:

    I just gotta have the tropicals book!

  36. I would love to read about and learn more about tropical plants.

  37. Terri Davis says:

    Tropicals are so beautiful!

  38. sallie stutz says:

    Would love to know about shade tropicals for small Brooklyn garden. Sallie

  39. Marianne Owen says:

    I am very interested in this book. I live in the Seattle Washington area and enjoy growing tropical plants but of course need to bring them in when our temperatures drop. I love transdescandia , orchids etc. I’m very interested in this book!

  40. Elaine McConnell says:

    Tropical plants can make any room seem like paradise

  41. Mary Anne Spradlin says:

    I would love this book, thanks for the opportunity!

  42. Diana Myers says:

    Just saw angel’s trumpet in an outdoor garden in Pennsylvania and was amazed at how beautiful they were. Towered over 8 feet tall and were stunning! Since then I have been interested in caring for tropical plants. This book is perfect!

  43. Terri Davis says:

    Tropical plants are the best!

  44. Suzanne G says:

    I would love to be able to incorporate tropical plants in my northeastern garden . My husband and I shared a wonderful tropical vacation when we first started traveling ?. Not sure if our climate would work ! They are pure beauty! This book sounds fabulous!

  45. Mary Ann Lambrecht says:

    I’m new to tropicals but want to learn.

  46. Tammy Jencik says:

    This book sounds like a perfect read for my Florida garden. It would guide me to really care for my habitat.

  47. Terri Davis says:

    I can’t wait to read this book!

  48. Carol muir says:

    I wish I lived in a tropical climate…your book would be the next best thing..count me in to win your book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ok ask black house