Big, Bold & Beautiful


We’re familiar with the fabled lilies of the field, which neither toil nor spin, yet are arrayed more gloriously than Solomon. But here we’re going to examine something even more... dare it be said? ... gaudy.

Extravagant caladiums and cannas are both showy and satisfying – the former for shade, the latter for sun. These two dependable beauties deserve a place in every Lowcountry landscape.

Though they don’t come into their own until full summer, late April is the time to plant them. Don’t put them in the ground until the soil warms up – they dislike cold feet, especially cold damp feet, but that is the only thing they are picky about. Once in full bloom, they go on and on into the fall.

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.

Caladium varieties

The foliage of caladiums is its glory. It has no flowers – just beautifully patterned gradations of long-lasting color in its large sturdy leaves.

Newer hybrids in the Florida series are elaborate in their coloration. Try 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. Exotic caladiums from Thailand have leaf colors and designs that are very delicate.

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, you should 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.

Sun-loving Cannas

Cannas and Caladiums2Cannas are another story 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 –for this try the Pretoria or Bengal Tiger varieties. Brilliant orange flowers competing with splashy green, cream and yellow striped foliage up to two to four feet.

The classic Australia variety 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.

Cannas and Caladiums3It has to be said that, after a peak bloom for many weeks, canna foliage will start to decline and look shabby. Just cut back what is offensive and make the best of it.

Blackberry Lilies

Although neither lily nor bulb but more akin to iris, the Blackberry Lily or Belamcanda chinensis is delightful. 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.