Sunday, June 24, 2012

I "canna" make up my mind

Yesterday, Saturday, I had a long-standing arrangement to visit Keith Hayward at Hart Canna Farm in Surrey. In theory, I buy all my cannas from Keith, because his stock is virus-free. In practice, I am like Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot and keep falling for rather unsuitable characters in garden centres that turn out to have canna virus. As Monroe's character, Sugar Kane, would say: "See what I mean? Not very bright."
I always mean to have a canna "purge" but when the darned things start growing, I start feeling sorry for them and can't bear to chuck them out. However, this is going to be the year when my garden goes canna virus-free.
I love cannas. Just look at that foliage above - you don't even need flowers. And yet there ARE flowers - big, showy orange ones that look like flamenco dancers. The one above is 'Durban' (or 'Phasion', or 'Tropicanna'  - the experts tend to think they're really all the same variety). Below is 'Pretoria' (aka 'Bengal Tiger' - some cannas have more aliases than a bigamous con artist).

Don't like orange? Don't like flamboyant foliage? Here's 'Lolita', a gorgeous lipstick pink with yellow edging.

The species canna below is C. patens. It has beautiful, delicate flowers, and the seedheads are more attractive as well. I like species cannas, but I don't have room to have lots of them, so I need a something that gives me a bit more bang for my buck.

I think this is 'Eric', as Keith's assistant Annie calls him. His proper name is C. 'Eric Neubert'.
Annie and Keith gave me a guided tour of the nursery and showed me the different varieties. They also gave me a short tutorial in how to recognise canna virus - although as Keith pointed out, this is easier on some varieties than on others. On 'Pretoria', for example, it is well nigh impossible to spot virus.

Oooh, a whole polytunnel full of cannas. Heaven! Especially on an overcast June day with a sharp wind blowing. It was lovely and warm in there.

I had decided that, in the Year of the Canna Purge, I was going to stop having orange cannas and have cream ones instead. I had this idea in my head that my garden was going to look classy rather than, erm, orange. This was one of the varieties (above) that I had decided to buy: 'Ambassadour'. There was just one snag: the foliage. Both the cream varieties I was considering (the other one was 'Creamy') have plain green foliage, which is faintly glaucous. I've spent years growing 'Durban' and 'Pretoria' and I'm used to canna foliage being an attraction in itself.

In the end, I decided to go for 'Wyoming', which has, erm, orange flowers and bronze foliage. It's more subtle than 'Durban' but still a knockout plant. And I also got a couple of C. musifolias, which very rarely flower, but produce the most spectacular leaves with an edging of bronze.
As the name suggests, they grow almost as big as banana plants. Like bananas, the canna family belongs to the Zingiberales order, and also like bananas, they are fairly low maintenance.They don't need staking or pruning or any fiddling about. They need a bit of protection in winter, but I've known them survive in the garden despite snow and frost. What they really hate is to get cold and wet - and stay cold and wet. Then you find the roots start to rot. 
To avoid this, I grow mine in big plastic pots, with a bit of copper tape round the pot to deter slugs. It is then easy to cut down the cannas after the first frost and put them somewhere dry - a garage, or a shed, or a cellar - to overwinter.
You don't need light - it doesn't have to be a greenhouse. And it doesn't have to be warm. You just want to keep them fairly dry until they start to sprout again the following spring. If you have a fairly solid garden table, shove them under there.

These are 'Queen Charlotte' (or 'Konigin Charlotte'). And below is 'Panache', which I defy anyone to dislike. It has the delicacy of the species flowers, but the presence of the big varieties. I'd spent ages telling Annie that I didn't like pink - and then fell in love with this one. Sadly, they didn't have any stock ready for sale. Next year...