‘Pretoria’ (aka ‘Bengal Tiger’) canna in a container with a yellow-flowered canna ‘Mango.’
When grown as a garden plant however, they are primarily grown for their foliage, which can drift from the horticultural definition of ‘black’ to the plainest of greens, with drifts in recent years into more tropical reddish yellows as seen in the Tesselaar series, Tropicanna. Flowers are just as tropical as the foliage and can persist late into the season, besting a first frost or two.
All this did not make them any more appealing to me – for the simple reason that in my 7a climate, they had to be dug in the autumn, and the only objects for which I was willing to go to such lengths were black truffles.
Over the years I have had many opportunities to receive end of season plants from other gardeners or $2.00 death rack specimens. I declined. There is very little less appealing than a canna that has spent a hot summer in a one gallon pot, and I wanted nothing to do with it.
Then, on a trip to Charlottesville to visit the garden of a good friend, Lindie Wilson, author and restorer of the Elizabeth Lawrence Garden, I was introduced to the hybrid ‘Pretoria’ (aka ‘Bengal Tiger’). I took a second glance. She sent some home. That was the game changer.
‘Pretoria’ is the very essence of foliage variegation. No vague mottling here, or marginated color that fades in less than four hours of sun. No – this is bright, green and gold striation that can make a dreary corner come alive, excite a sedate water feature and push a humdrum container into the realm of ‘above average.’ If that weren’t enough, flaming orange blooms complement and enhance the foliage by mid-season. Result: tropical mojo so intense you’ll be inspired to mix rum punch by the pitcher and crank up the samba. You may even take up cigar smoking.
Hyperbole aside, it’s a great plant. And as over-wintering goes, turns out it could not be easier. Simply lift the rhizomes, inspect for any signs of rot and cut those bits off, then store in the cellar, basement, garage, or any other out of the way space that doesn’t dip below freezing. I usually store mine in dampened peat to keep them from drying out, but friends have great success with unceremoniously dumping them in a plastic garbage bag. As I have so many this year, I finally feel safe experimenting with the latter method.
Early in the season (March/April) I put each rhizome with a healthy bud in individual gallon pots with potting soil and a granular fertilizer and stick them in a cold frame. Canna are heat lovers and won’t do much till temperatures pick up, but this gives them a little head start. Since my evangelization, I have now found a soft spot for the plain, red-flowered species, Canna indica, and am incredibly impressed with the architectural statement it makes in a repetitive planting scheme.