Joe Naidu waters his yard every day for several hours, which doesn't seem at all strange in context.
It's not for the grass. It's for the palm trees. They're not used to this Maryland weather.
And Marylanders aren't used to seeing palm trees, especially not a stroll away from the 19th-century buildings of Ellicott City's Main Street. The two coconut-laden ones standing sentry near the foot of Naidu's driveway might look like a leafy mirage.
But behind them are seven other palm trees, tall amid a burst of colorful plants - and Naidu would have more if friends hadn't carted a half-dozen away.
"Inherent in my upbringing is a thirst for tropical things," said Naidu, 34, whose parents grew up in India.
Getting the flowers and trees is easy. He owns a tropical plant company. Based in Ellicott City, Premier Foliage grows the greenery in Homestead, Fla., and ships the results to hotels, restaurants and other businesses around the world.
But the care Naidu gives the plants once they're in his yard borders on devotion. The trees - some about 20 feet tall - have to be placed with a loader, an exercise in heavy-duty planting that takes several people. Then the palms need liquid, and lots of it. Naidu said they're doubling his water bills.
"We get notices from the water commission: `Hey, is anything wrong at your house?'" he said with a laugh.
But the trees are ephemeral spirits in this climate, despite the attention. Winter is too cold for them. Come December, they die.
So he plants new ones in the spring.
He and his wife, Sherry, moved into their sand-colored house three years ago. Now they can eat dinner to the flickering light of tiki torches. Their 2-year-old son, Joey, can play on the patio surrounded by palm trees and fragrant plants - red and green and pink. Soon they'll rig a hammock between two of the trees, offering a view of sky framed by rustling leaves.
Sherry Naidu loves that sound. "It's almost like you're sitting at the beach," she said, smiling.
Some of the Naidus' old-town Ellicott City neighbors are ambivalent about the palm trees, herald of things tropical in an area that isn't. It's a community in which people examine siding, windows and walkways to make sure they're appropriately historic-looking, and palm trees could seem out of place.
Still, no one's demanding that the trees get the ax.
"I think it's kind of weird, putting coconut trees in this climate," said Bob Brown, a Main Street attorney, laughing. "But I can't make any formal complaint."
Some found the idea of palm trees in suburbia appealing and decided to bring in more. Two restaurants in Ellicott City - La Palapa Grill and Cantina on Main Street and Jilly's off U.S. 40 - decorated with the distinctive plants.
"It's neat, I'll tell you," said Will Rich, who owns Jilly's.
Joe Naidu said that he has thought about life in a tropical place, maybe a vacation home in Florida, but that he doesn't plan to move from the area. He figures he'll keep replanting palm trees, spring after spring.
He said he doesn't mind the work or the water bills. Caring for the trees relaxes him.
"I can sit out here for hours and hours, just watering," he said.