But did you know there actually is a banana canna? Yup, Canna musafolia (horticultural Lain for banana is “musa”). This bold and architectural foliage plant readily grows to 6 feet tall and its long, red-tinged leaves can easily be mistaken for those of a banana tree.
It is, however, much easier to overwinter and is hardier than even Musa basjoo, the banana tree famed for being hardy in most of Zone 5.
Give it shelter and shade
But even in singing its praises, plant catalogs stress over and over that the banana canna “rarely flowers.” Well, after growing this honker for five or six years now, I am here to tell you otherwise. This dang-fool “foliage plant” flowered almost all summer long this year. Which is a heck of a sight longer than just about anything else in my Iowa garden.
And the flower is a pretty radiant color, too, kind of a fiery orange-red (and overhead), which really lights up the shady and sheltered areas where I plant it.
And I say “areas” plural because the tubers reproduce readily and can be divided to be planted elsewhere willy-nilly. That also makes them great pass-along plants, so you can give extras to friends and neighbors.
While the banana canna readily accepts full-sun conditions, such exposure usually means more winds than the foliage can bear. Again: like a banana tree.
When winter comes
Overwintering the banana canna is easier than with most bulbs, corms, tubers, etc., because it is so robust. When a hard freeze finally blasts the foliage, cut off the stalks at about the soil level, dig up the mass of tubers and put it in some kind of container or even a plastic bag. This is the point in which I often divide the tubers, if only because the mass can get too big for one bag.
Bring the bagged plants into the garage for a day to let them dry out, then put them in the dark cool recesses of your basement where you have all your pineapple lilies, callas and elephants’ ears resting for the winter.
Then next season, you won’t have to buy a single plant in fashioning your tropics on the tundra. Think of it as Instant Maui. Just add water.
What else I’m into this week: Miking my acoustic guitar. Shades of CSN&Y!
Craig Summers Black, The Transplanted Gardener, is an award-winning garden writer and photographer who is among more than a dozen expert gardeners who blog regularly at Diggin' it. You can read more of what he's written at Diggin' It by clicking here. You may also follow Craig’s further adventures in gardening, music, and rural life on Twitter.
The bunnies looked cute and innocent, but they were rose-garden wrecking crews. Every year those wascally wabbits defoliated my new bushes, then stared at me defiantly as if challenging me to do something about it. I wanted to wring their furry necks.
Squirrels not only destroyed the last bird feeder my dad made, they made a Christmas feast out of the wires connected to the defrosting mechanism in our heat pump. The squirrels weren’t injured by their antics, but my repair bill was quite a shock.
When we moved to the mountains of North Carolina in May, we left the bunnies behind and brought along our tried and true squirrel-proof bird feeders. All went well until I spied a tiny critter that could hang on and eat without making the feed holes close, as they would under a gray squirrel’s weight.
At first I thought the acrobat was a clever baby gray, but I soon learned this new, infuriating pest was an American red squirrel.
Red squirrels are fast and feisty
Unlike hulking two-pound, 18-inch gray squirrels, reds -- called “boomers” in the mountains -- are about 8 inches long and weigh barely 8 ounces. They have strong hind legs and curved claws that help them ably climb. They can also swim.
Despite their diminutive size, red squirrels are brave, brazen, and don’t mind barking and chattering at you if you try to chase them away. In fact, they can “bark” at you for more than an hour if you really irritate them.
After weeks of trying to discourage the little devils, I began to admire these pretty, gutsy creatures.
For starters, they are extremely speedy. Mountain folk say they can snag a pine cone from a tree branch and be waiting on the ground by the time it falls.
Although they prefer to dine on conifer seeds, some industrious reds also gather mushrooms, tear them into slices, and carry them to tree cavities to dry.
During the summer and autumn, they hide hundreds of pine cones and other nonperishable tidbits in hollow trees or underground stashes called middens. These “pantries” are supposed to keep them going until spring arrives.
Even though reds gather significantly more food than other squirrels, they often forget where they’ve left their treasures. As a result, fewer than 30 percent of juveniles survive their first winter.
After reading about the high boomer mortality rate, we started putting out extra goodies on the deck railing to complement their diet of seeds, berries, bugs and nuts.
We want our little reds to be around to entertain and annoy us for many years to come.
Lynn Hunt, the Rose Whisperer, is one of more than a dozen expert gardeners who blog regularly at Diggin' It. She's an accredited horticultural judge and a Consulting Rosarian Emeritus for the American Rose Society. She has won dozens of awards for her writing in newspapers, magazines, and television. After a recent move, she grows roses and other plants in her garden in the mountains of western North Carolina. To read more by Lynn, click here.You can also follow her on Twitter and read her Dirt Diaries.
It’s hard for me to believe I am saying this, but I want to make a case for “garden eye-candy.” Those glossy, beautiful books, usually British, that show us photo after photo of gorgeous garden scenes are generally referred to as “garden porn” or “eye candy.” But for most of us in the US -- such as the state in which I live, Virginia -- most of the plants in these books' beautiful photos don’t bloom at the same time because of different climates.
While I eagerly tell the participants in my classes that it’s fun to look at those pictures and borrow ideas, I think there is even a bigger benefit.
Learn to appreciate the best
When we go to a museum, we don’t look at mediocre Impressionist art. We look at great art. We look at the capture of exquisite light or the waves of grain in a Van Gogh or a ballerina preparing to dance, and we are enchanted. This is an artist at the top of his or her game.
Some artists appeal to me more than others. Cezanne may be your favorite, while a friend's may be Manet, and mine may be Degas. Taste and choice don’t matter as much as the education of our eyes and minds in what first-rate work looks like.
That same educated eye can be brought to the landscape.
What you learn
By reading and looking at the enormous variety of books with stunning and delicious photos, we can teach our eyes (and mind) about first-class gardens. By visiting great gardens (and the not-so-great) we can learn about how to use the dimensions of time and space with more flair.
The style may not suit you or your property, but attention to form, rhythm, mass, contrast, harmony, shape, etc., will prevail.
We have many public gardens that have received loving care and great resources. Sometimes they inspire; sometimes they fail. But having seen so many can help the observer understand and tuck away the details of success and the elements of failure to apply or avoid in their own gardens. The same is true with private gardens featured on tours.
Even though we are unlikely to install a great ha-ha or have enough serfs to maintain elaborate topiary, we can observe and learn.
Donna Williamson is one of more than a dozen professional garden writers who blog regularly at Diggin' It. She's a master gardener, garden designer, and garden coach. She has taught gardening and design classes at the State Arboretum of Virginia, Oatlands in Leesburg, and Shenandoah University. She’s also the founder and editor of Grandiflora Mid-Atlantic Gardening magazine, and the author of “The Virginia Gardener’s Companion: An Insider’s Guide to Low Maintenance Gardening in Virginia.” She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. To read more by Donna, click here.