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story.lead_photo.caption Bananas are fast growers. This Red Abyssinian banana froze to the ground in Columbus but was roof high by mid-August. (Norman Winter/TNS)

After the Polar Vortex visit, it left many of us thinking about life in the tropics or at the bare minimum longing for summer, gardening, and splashing in the pool. In reality, it will not be long until the backyard becomes our corner of paradise, our secret garden if we add a few tropical plants.

The tropical style garden is about an attitude as much as it is about style. Many of us made treks across the seas to far-off islands where the crystal-clear water, fragrant blossoms, and lush surroundings made us forget the stresses of life. Though we might have been there for days, maybe even making more than one trip a year, time seemed fleeting.

We find ourselves wishing we could create that look, that feel, at home, so that when we have fought the four lanes of commuting traffic, after a contentious day at the office, we can slip into cutoffs and transition ourselves to paradise. This will become our nest, our place to cook and unwind, and like Jimmy Buffet sings in "that one particular harbor."

This past summer my son took a couple of photos for the 'old man' while at the Atlanta Zoo. I take my hat off to the zoo staff that created such a picturesque setting, serving as an inspiration, or example of what can be done using everyday plants from the local garden center.

Transforming the garden to the look of the islands might be as simple as adding some coarse-textured foliage. At the Atlanta Zoo, they combined variegated bananas, black elephant ears, golden thyrallis, Persian shield, and bromeliads into what looked like a Jamaican retreat.

In another garden, they used more bananas, a couple of tree ferns, coleus, philodendrons, and elephant ears for a rain forest look.

There are many tropical plants at today's garden center that are more-cold-hardy than you ever imagined. They may freeze to the ground and return in the spring but that's the nature of many of our regular perennials too.

There are bananas for sale like the Japanese fiber banana that's has been known to return from minus 20 degrees. But then there are plants like hostas and ferns that simply look tropical.

Another factor is summer heat. When the stifling temperatures have sent you indoors where it is much cooler, guess what plants are looking good out in the garden. More than likely they are tropical plants like lantanas, mandevilla, ixora, crossandra, princess flower, and hibiscus. Don't be afraid to create your corner of paradise this summer using tropical plants.

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