The Bulbs of SUMMER

Big, bold and beautiful.

CANNA JOURNEY’S ENDThough we’re all familiar with the fabled lilies of the field, which neither toil nor spin, yet are arrayed more gloriously than Solomon, here we are concerned with something even more... dare it be said? ... gaudy. The extravagant color combinations of caladiums, as well as the once despised cannas are both showy and satisfying – the former for shade, the latter for sun. You can have the best of both possible garden worlds when you plant these two winners, for both dependable beauties deserve a place in every Lowcountry landscape.

They are here referred to as “the bulbs LIEoSf summer” because they do not come into their own until full summer – but then they go on and on into the fall.

However, do not put them in the ground until the soil warms up – they are picky about their dislike of cold feet, especially cold damp feet, but that is the only thing they are picky about.

Of course, they are entirely different in form and character. The only resemblance is that both emerge from a nondescript and totally unpromising tuber-like root or bulb. The foliage of caladiums is its glory as it has no flowers – just beautifully patterned gradations of long-lasting color in its large sturdy leaves.

CANNA PANACHEAnd as older leaves begin to decline, new ones take their place. Newer hybrids are the Florida series which are even more elaborate in their coloration, i.e. Florida Elise, Florida Red Ruffles, Florida Sunrise and Florida Cardinal – all very dramatic. Bred with thicker, more substantial leaves, they are said to better withstand hot conditions.

But even more recently available are exotic caladiums from Thailand and, amazingly although not surprising, the leaf colors and designs are very delicate with a far Eastern or Asian flair. The foliage looks like richly brocaded fabric – if that doesn’t sound too good to be true. A prominent bulb grower advises that when planting caladiums, if you notice an obvious dominant sprout (usually found on round symmetrical tubers), emerging from the center, take heart and break or scoop it out. That will enable more side shoots to emerge and create a fuller plant. And if plants try to sneak in a bloom, snap it off to keep leaves coming. Gardening requires tough love.

Cannas are another stripe entirely. They may be short and container-sized, or tall or very tall. Most of them make a statement in the garden with height and bold colors, yet others are fragile and more modest appearing. Some of the leaves are boldly striped to add to the general color explosion – one such is the old familiar Pretoria or Bengal Tiger; the brilliant orange flowers competing with splashy green, cream and yellow striped foliage up to two to four feet.

CANNA YELLOW KING HUMBERTThe classic Australia flaunts bright red flowers against very dark and glossy burgundy leaves, topping out at three to four feet tall. Of a much more delicate character is the fragile-appearing – but very long blooming – rosy-centered Panache, first seen in splendor at the Duke gardens in Durham, North Carolina, but now flourishing in a couple of Hilton Head Island gardens. Other choice varieties include Journey’s End, Picasso, Tropicana and Tropical Sunrise. It has to be said that, after peak bloom for many weeks, the foliage will start to decline and look shabby. Just cut back what is offensive and make the best of it.

Although neither lily nor bulb but more akin to iris, is the delightful so-called Blackberry Lily or Belamcanda chinensis. Its small lily-like flowers may be cheerful yellow or gaily speckled orange. Easily grown and not fussy, they emerge from sturdy strap-like green foliage and brighten their space all summer, even multiplying for your pleasure. Flower petals finish by curling themselves up into amusing little pigtails and seed pods open to reveal clusters of shiny black berries, making them garden worthy for long season interest.

The bulbs of summer, which appear to have no natural enemies or afflictions, are a no-brainer for the colorful Lowcountry garden.