TROPICAL DREAMS

TROPICAL DREAMS

            A slow spring is absolutely painful.  After waiting all winter for the warm soft breezes and pollen-induced
sneezes that herald spring in this part of the world, it is awful to have to put
up with cold rainy weather.  It seems to dampen the spirits without appreciably
diminishing the pollen count.

            Still, there are compensations.  The
fragile appearance of the pansies in front of my house belies the fact that they
have withstood a late spring snowfall, gusty winds and chilly rain.  The cold overcast weather has made the daffodils last longer.  Chickweed, which is undoubtedly impervious to anything short of volcanic
eruption, is rampaging through my backyard.  My flower seedlings, hardening off on the back porch and newly planted in
the front border, may be shivering a bit, but they are hanging on.  If they can do it, clad only in their wispy secondary leaves, I can do it
too.

            I console myself as the rain pelts down by thinking about big, brassy
tropical plants.  This is a new line
of thought for me, as I don’t know many people who raise cannas or elephant
ears (Colocasia esculenta) or even fancy-leafed Caladiums.  They certainly weren’t part of my childhood.  My mother, had she known about them, would have found them distastefully
gaudy.  My father would have
resisted planting something that had to be taken up and stored in the winter.

            But, as the psychologists say, we all have to leave childhood behind
sometime.  In my case that time is
now.  I have decided to invest in
some cannas.  The jury is still out
on elephant ears, but I will probably end up with one in a pot on my back porch. 

            Surprisingly enough, this would be quite in keeping with my
“old-fashioned” garden.  The
Victorians loved cannas for their showy flowers and foliage. Back in the days
when people had either more time or more garden helpers, they were not averse to
lifting and storing big batches of hefty rhizomes through the winter.  In parts of the Deep South and California, cannas can still be found
naturalized at old home sites.

            There are all kinds of vendors that sell cannas on the Internet.  They also provide a wealth of canna lore.  Most sources, including the venerable Hortus
Third
, mention that canna originated in tropical and subtropical regions.  One source claims that indiginous headhunters in some of
those areas traditionally ate the plant’s roots.  Another, somewhat more believable source, refers to canna as “the
birthplant of the month” for September.  I
suspect that there is more manure on some of the websites than there is in my
garden.

            Cannas are big, with some of the cultivars reaching 8’.  There are also dwarf varieties that come in at about 2’.  I am looking for a plant, with flowers that are predominately yellow or
white that stands between 2’ and 6’ (I don’t like having to get up on a
ladder to observe my flowers).  Variegated foliage would be a nice addition as well.

            Thumbing through one catalog I find ‘Princess Di’, named, as many
plants are these days, after the late Princess of Wales.  ‘Princess Di” stands between 2-3’ tall, has grayish foliage and
cream petals with a blushing center.  It’s
a possibility.  A similar cultivar,
‘Richard Wallace’ is a bit taller with yellow “gladiolus-like” flowers.  It was hybridized in 1902, which appeals to the historian in me.  If I am feeling a little wild and crazy, I may even go for ‘Striped
Beauty’, which has green and yellow striped leaves and “red budded, white
striped yellow flowers”.  Even
though it only rises between 2’-3’, ‘Striped Beauty’ sounds like it will
have a lot of impact.

            If we have a few more rainy spring days, I may feel desperate enough to
buy all of the above, plus an elephant ear or two.  There is a strange-sounding cultivar of the latter, Colocasia esculenta
‘Illustris’, that sports grayish black leaves with lime green veins and leaf
edging.  If the rains continue, I
can put it and a few cannas in big pots around my Adirondack chair, then settle
back and pretend I am in the rain forest.  It
will beat walking around my garden and watching the roses get black spot.

 


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