CANNA. Central and South America, Asia. This is a group I have tried to ignore, though without much success. Their combination of large, bold leaves and frequently lurid flower colors can make them difficult to use in combination with other plants in the garden (except, of course, in Los Angeles). Still, they have always had a devoted following. Recently they seem to have become the subject of a minor fad in California, and the pressure and generosity of several enthusiastic friends have put me over the brink.
The plants described below are robust, making broad thickets from branched tubers. Their heavy stems rise 4-8 and are lined by broad, often shiny leaves up to 3 long. Irregular flowers somewhat resembling those of the ginger lilies (Hedychium) are clustered on stalks above the foliage in summer and fall. The season is extended considerably near the coast. They are striking specimen plants if you have the space, and good for large containers (though they need to be removed and carved down frequently, to keep from breaking said containers apart). Most of our collection was received from Herb Kelly, who hybridizes them and has made many fine selections, and Hastings Schmidt. Sun or light shade, rich soil (or frequent additions of fertilizers), regular watering. The tops are damaged by temperatures a few degrees below freezing, but the tubers are hardy even in severe climates, if mulched.
Carousel. One of Herb Kellys hybrids from the 80s, growing 3-5 high, with rich green leaves. The flowers are large and broad-petalled. Their color shifts from pale orange to pink on opening, then darkens with age. This is a refreshing break from the usually lurid color palette.
Durban. A darker companion to the better-known Pretoria, described below. It has very broad leaves, up to 2' long, heavily tinged with purple and lined with yellow along the veins. The flowers are up to 4" broad and colored a wild orange-red.
x ehemannii. A hybrid of C. iridiflora. This is certainly not a stereotypical canna. It has 5-8' stems and 1-2', dark green leaves. Nodding 5" flowers, rose pink in color, are carried on branched, gracefully arching stems.
glauca. Water canna. This species and its hybrids are a little less overwhelming than many others in cultivation. Most of them grow 4-6' tall and have relatively slender rhizomes and stems and smaller leaves. Both leaves and stems are an attractive blue- to grey green in color. The flowers are a little smaller and more modestly colored than those of many cannas. They can be completely immersed in ponds or grown in the open garden with no more attention than other cannas. A group of hybrids with similar features was introduced recently by Longwood Gardens. Endeavor is distinguished by bright red flowers. Those of Erebus are salmon pink. Ra has bright yellow flowers. And those of Taney are deep orange.
Grande. One of the truly giant hybrids, as its name suggests. It grows up to 9' tall and has huge dark leaves, broadly outlined in purple. The flowers are small and light orange in color, adding little to the overall impression.
Intrigue. A recent hybrid by Herb Kelly, growing 6-8' high. It has rather narrow leaves, heavily tinged with purple, and showy bright orange flowers.
Lucifer. This is the one true dwarf we have thus far to offer. It has 2-3' stems, proportionately scaled leaves and interesting if perhaps too-bright flowers, brilliant red with slightly irregular yellow margins.
Oiseau de Feu. This is what I think of as a typical canna, up to 5 high, large-leaved and sporting loud red flowersthe equivalent of Heavy Metal at high volume.
Omega. This is a gentle giant from hybridizer Herb Kelly. The bold effect of its 8-10' stems and large, dark leaves is offset by softly colored flowers, which change in color from cream to pink as they age.
Panache. One of the few cannas to which I would apply the word elegant. It has broad, dark, slightly bluish green leaves. The flowers nod gracefully and have rather narrow segments, each shading from deep coral pink near the base to pale yellow near the tip.
Pink Sunburst. One of our nods to the variegated plant crowd (of which I am a cheerful non-member). It grows 3-5 high and has leaves which emerge deeply flushed with pink, have yellow veins on a dark green background when expanded, and darken further with age. The flowers are large and tinted salmon pink.
Pretoria. This is one to delight the hearts of variegated plant buffs, and at least not offend the rest of us. It has exceptionally broad leaves with sets of narrow yellow bands along the veins, against a deep green background. Flowers are vivid orange. It tolerates full sun near the coast but will look its best with light shading where summers are hot.
Red Stripes. A 4-6 plant with very large, dark leaves. The stripes are actually the purplish red, parallel veins, which make a neat pattern along the full length of the leaf. The small orange flowers add little to the impression. Our thanks to Herb Kelly.
Tropical Sunrise. A 6' plant with large, deep green leaves and interesting large flowers. They are peach-colored on opening, then shaded with pink as they age. This is a nice break from some of the overwrought reds and oranges.
Wisley Dwarf. This is more like one of the species cannas than one of the modern hybrids in appearance. It grows about 4' tall and has smaller, narrower leaves than most cannas, bright green in color. The flowers are narrow-petalled and orange red in color, with yellow markings.
Yellow Glow. Hybridized by Herb Kelly, using C. glauca, described above, and other cannas. It is an attractive plant, with rather light green leaves and beautiful yellow flowers with orange centers.