In the heat of summer (should we be so lucky), we normally would be looking to add a little extra punch to our gardens, and there is one family of plants that has so much to offer but really doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Canna lilies have been around for a long time, but with interesting new foliage colours and blossoms, they’re experiencing a huge resurgence. Canna leaves that resemble those of bananas and flowers that look like ginger lilies add a refreshing tropical touch to any container or garden bed. The problem is we don’t use enough of them!
I love cannas for their incredibly easy care. They not only thrive in the heat of summer but also, like dahlias, will carry your garden well into November. From a single tuberous root, they will develop into huge clumps, making a magnificent display. They also come in low (18 inches or 45 cms), medium (three feet or 90 cms) and tall (six feet or 180 cms) sizes. Cannas can be used as foreground plantings or as giant background specimens.
Cannas add drama. Their striking leaf colours and variegations create an opportunity for some fabulous combinations. There are dozens and dozens of canna varieties, but there are a few I’m really excited about. Black is still where it’s at, and there are a number of dark foliaged varieties. The master of black, however, is ‘Australia’. This rather slender and elegant grower has almost black leaves with brilliant orange-red flowers. It’s definitely a ‘wow’ plant in my book!
Perhaps the most stunning of all cannas are the yellow and green varieties which, by the way, are all very similar. Striped ‘Bengal Tiger’, with its rich orange flowers, was one of the very first of the intense yellow and green striped varieties. ‘Pretoria’ looks almost identical with melon orange blooms and leaves similar to ‘Bengal Tiger’ but with a tiny red margin on the outside of its leaves.
One of the most popular of all the striped varieties is ‘Tropicana’. It has intense green, orange and red striped foliage that changes intensity with the temperature and maturity of the leaves. Its orange flowers are a true complement to its leaf colour. It’s just a great plant!
Sometimes we simply get caught up in the foliage colours of cannas and overlook their exquisite blossoms. Some, in particular, are breathtaking. ‘Cleopatra’, with its most unusual red and yellow patterns, is one of the most sought after flowering forms. Today there are a whole series of designer colours such as peach, apricot and pink shaded varieties that blend in with our current colour schemes.
Remember: Cannas are well suited to both container and garden bed planting. They add both depth and vibrancy to any garden, but most of all, they can instantly add a magical touch of the tropics.
Brian Minter is a master gardener who operates Minter Gardens in Chilliwack.