You’re ambling through the greenhouse at Gardens of Babylon and something big and unusual catches your eye: it’s a tropical beauty, spreading its big leaves out over the table of smaller tropicals for sale, as if giving shelter to the clutch of little ones until they’re purchased to go to their forever homes.
This big beauty is a ‘Thai Constellation’ monstera, says Trevor Bradshaw, Gardens of Babylon’s creative director. And unlike the smaller monsteras and bromeliads available for purchase on the table, this one lives here, and it’s not for sale. It’s one of many unusual plants that have a permanent home at the Gardens of Babylon garden center, inside the greenhouses among the houseplants for purchase. Bradshaw gives a quick tour:
Walk through aisle between the fiddle-leaf figs and the bromeliads in the main greenhouse, look up, and you can’t miss the Elkhorn fern, a big globe of a plant that hangs like a chandelier above your head. “It’s an old one,” Bradshaw says. “Seems like it’s been here forever.” These fleshy ferns are native to tropical regions of South America, Asia and Australia, and thrive in the shaded, humid confines of the greenhouse.
The gemstone table near the checkout counter holds at least two living Philodendron gems: ‘Pink Princess’ and ‘Jose Buono.’ Both of these are climbing philodendrons with big, striking, variegated foliage: ‘Pink Princess’ has large, heart-shaped purplish-green leaves that are splashed with big splotches of bright pink. ‘Jose Buono’ has huge lime green leaves with patches of pale yellow.
They’re both charmers, but can you purchase a small specimen for your own home? “We sometimes have them for sale,” Bradshaw says. “But they come in in small numbers, and they go quickly.”
At the other end of that greenhouse is another monstera that sits on a table with its bright green foliage climbing toward the light coming through the greenhouse roof. It’s the yellow variegated ‘Aurea,’ whose large, fenestrated leaves are variegated with splotches of bright yellow.
Nearby, toward the back, a Vanilla orchid climbs from a shelf to the ceiling, covering a portion of a wall. In the wild, this primitive orchid climbs and branches using short roots to attach to tree trunks. In the Gardens of Babylon greenhouse, the crew has provided that suitable wall where the vining orchid has climbed happily for years.
Back in the main greenhouse, Bradshaw shows off a Thaumatophyllum selloum (formerly known as Philodendron selloum, Bradshaw explains). It’s also known by several other names: split-leaf philodendron, tree philodendron and others. The specimen at Gardens of Babylon grows its large, wide, deeply lobed leaves at the top of a tall trunk that, along with its with its winding, ropy roots on top of the soil, indicates that it’s an old soul.
While these are beautiful and unusual plant specimens, one thing shoppers and visitors notice most, Bradshaw says, is the “living wall” that covers about an 8 x 12-foot portion of the main greenhouse wall at the garden center. It’s an assemblage of common and rare beauties, all growing together to form a tapestry of colors and textures. There are ferns and anthuriums, several monsteras, bromeliads and epiphytes, common and rare philodendrons and much more.
The wall was built for a special event about three years ago, he recalls, then broken down and reassembled in the greenhouse, where it has charmed customers ever since.
“We think it’s the best living wall in Nashville,” Bradshaw says.
The next time you’re looking for houseplants to add to your collection, check out the rare and unusual not-for-sale specimens that thrive in the greenhouse at Gardens of Babylon garden center. There’s high demand for unusual plants these days, and Bradshaw advises checking the store’s social media (here and here) to know when rare plants do arrive for sale.
The garden center is located at 900 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., at the south end of the Nashville Farmer’s Market.