There are two types of stores I am not allowed to enter by myself, bookstores of any kind and plant nurseries. I am completely unable to walk out empty-handed. As a writer and a former Certified Master Gardener, I guess this should be no surprise.

I’ve gotten better over the years, in large part because a move five years ago underscored the difficulties in moving a large collection of trees and flowers in pots from one state to another, particularly when you have to find someone to babysit them as you don’t yet have a permanent address. But that doesn’t mean our garden is devoid of international residents.

Take, for example, Gunnera manicata, also known as dinosaur greens. Three mounds of it in our backyard are currently taller than me and eight feet wide, with spiky leaves at least two feet wide. We saw it growing along the roads in Chile and Argentina, wild as can be, and yet it’s domesticated here in the western U.S.

Stanley, Falkland Islands
in February, their summer

In the Falkland Islands, fuchsias growing in local yards captivated me. While larger than the ones in a bank under my kitchen window, similarities in flowers was hard to deny. It turns out that a major portion of the 110 species are native to Central and South America.

In the same place, Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ (or a close cousin) grew in abundant clumps. It turns out some of this family have become invasive in the Pacific Northwest. Mine spread like crazy from a wealth of seeds and corm divisions. I’ve used it to populate other bare parts of the yard with shocking ease.

I haven’t even listed the tuberous begonias, or the nasturtiums (really part of the Tropaeolum family), or the Heliconia (think ginger you’d see in Hawaii). Many of the common nursery plants seen around the U.S. are hybrids from heirlooms discovered in South and Central America, Africa, and around the southern Pacific rim.

When you’re next traveling outside your region and see a plant that’s familiar, learn more about it. You might have its distant kissing cousin growing in your own backyard.

What great gardens outside your home region have you visited? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

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