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ALL DRAMA..NO CRISIS; Cannas are one of the garden's biggest show-offs so take care of them as the first frosts creep in and the rewards will be immense.


There is snow in the forecast and, as I write this, hail is rattling against the windows.

We've been hurrying our tender plants under cover for their winter sojourn and protecting more vulnerable plants that will have to stay where they are in beds and borders for the duration.

Standing out since they were carried outside in May, several huge pots of hedychiums have been gracing the hot borders. They flower well but their biggest contribution is the size and stature of their big, handsome leaves.

Cannas, which we're also bringing in now, fulfil the same sort of function and add real panache too.

Although a green-leaved canna can stop the show on account of its scale, varieties with bronze leaves are the real exhibitionists. Not only are they immense but the rich dark sienna of their scrolled leaves opening into giant paddles is in complete contrast to the surrounding verdancy of most gardens. When the great, exotic clump is topped by spikes of orchid-like blooms of tropical frui nothing else gets a look-in.

Cannas come from the Caribbe South America but thrive all over where conditions suit them, in wa often escaping the confines of the naturalising in the surrounding area.

In temperate climates, like ours, they need a little help. Rhizomes can be started off in pots of good, loam-based compost in spring and moved outside or planted directly from their winter resting place when the frost has past.

When temperatures fall at the other end of the season (in other words, now) and foliage is tattered and blackened, they can be cut down, lifted and brought undercover, nestled snugly in old compost and politely ignored -apart from a drop of water to prevent desiccation.

Alternatively, if you want to increase your stocks through the winter you can keep them growing with the minimum of heat and split off pieces of rhizome, potting them individually. Cannas are accommodating and generous plants, needing only sun adequate moisture to thrive. Returns on such small investment are enormous. Few subjects can compare with their dramatic presence, although where they are planted, and with what, matters.

Drama can easily turn to farce.

Cannas used as dot plants in municipal bedding schemes look lonely like a scarecrow in a field of wheat. But if you put the same plant with fellow show-offs, either to battle for attention or raise the stakes, it exhibits its true colours.

None more so than canna Durban. This is almost a caricature of a canna a drama queen par excellence. Its magnificent oval leaves, drawn to a sharp, pinched point are deep, opulent purple, striped along the veins and parallel to them with rich, raspberry pink.

The midribs of the leaves and stems are also pink, supporting late-in-the-season flowers of unexpected, brilliant orange. Garish and gaudy, some would say. Glamorous and gorgeous, would come my reply.

The flowers look like something from a magician's act, like the silken flags tucked into the crook of his hand. One tug and surely the flower would unfurl, followed by a stream of others. Hedychiums are closely related to cannas, but hail from Asia and are tougher.

Adventurous gardeners with reasonably sheltered gardens can try leaving the hardier species and their hybrids in situ in warm beds with rich soil. As long as the tu bers don't freeze (the best protection is a mound of soil, although it can look like a mole invasion), they should spring into growth in early summer.

That's what I'm doing now.

The asset that hedychiums possess and cannas do not, is perfume. Although perfume is far too proper and restrained a word for it.

As dusk descends, their flowers exude the most alluring fragrance.

Close your eyes and you could be in India, treading a dusty track, warm with the heat from the long day's sun. Scent is the most evocative of all the senses, nowhere better than in the garden, and yet so seldom mentioned or considered that it's difficult to write about it in any meaningful way.

Yet, as I cut back the old, redundant stems of our hedychiums on a cold, winter's day, I can still recall that beautiful scent, rich and exotic drifting in the air.


CUT Carol removes frost-damaged foliage

BIG DISPLAY But it's time to give sun-loving hedychium's some winter protection
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 1, 2013
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