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In the garden: Why Tim is the Midland Lily King.

Byline: Howard Drury

TAKE the top of a windswept hill in Leicestershire, a young lad, and a strong gale.

The result? Devastated polythene tunnels and a bloomin' business in tatters.

But that's not enough to keep a good man - and his dad - down.

Tim Oakland and his father, John, have battled back to rebuild their nursery in the very open but beautiful corner of the East Midlands known as Burton-on-the-Wolds.

It's just three miles east of Loughborough and it's a winner - in more ways than one. Tim has scooped top medals all round the country. He's the toast of the Royal Horticultural Society show circuit.

The canny gardener's forte is Canna lilies. There are literally hundreds in his catalogue, some coming in from the Continent and others direct from America where they're a very popular plant.

Rightly so. They make great patio and pot plants.

Cannas throw up huge, ornate leaves and the flower spikes are topped with orchid-like flowers varying in colour from pale lemon through to coral, salmon, pink, red and almost black.

They've been around for many years with some of the original varieties introduced at the beginning of the last century. Now there's a great revival and I've caught the bug.

They're some of the easiest half-hardy perennial plants to grow in your garden although, as they're half-hardy perennials, they'll need over-wintering somewhere relatively frost-free.

Greenhouse

If you can grow dahlias or chrysanthemums, you can grow Canna lilies. They're just as easy but there's none of the de-budding, taking cuttings or whatever.

The Canna lily forms a huge rhizome or fat root in the soil which you simply lift with a fork and carry into somewhere frost-free such as a shed or greenhouse, keeping the root just slightly damp during the winter.

Cut the old flower spike down as it dies back - and simply pot it up again in the spring!

If you haven't got room to do this, then just dig a hole in the garden when the danger of most frost is past and plant it out again towards the middle or end of May.

They're greedy little blighters. I say 'little' because some can be as short as two to three feet. Others are as tall as eight to 10 feet which means there are varieties suitable for everybody's garden.

They must receive plenty of plant food and mine get generous applications throughout the season of fish, blood and bone and Rooster organic chicken fertiliser. And the really good news? They seem equally happy in heavy spots of clay in my garden or in peat-based compost in pots.

One word of warning! Cannas can be prone to virus and recent arrivals from France are cause for concern.

Although the flowers look attractive, there's uneven rippling around the edges of the leaves and unusual colouring and speckling on the leaves themselves.

This indicates a virus. If Government boffins confirm the diagnosis, all stock of the French origin will be destroyed. Others to avoid include small pre-packed tubers available in garden centres from Holland. These are often virus victims and take several years to build up to any reasonable size.

Watch out for Tim and his dad at flower shows throughout the country. If you'd like a copy of their catalogue, give them a call on 01509 880 646, e-mail them at john@joakland.freeserve.co.uk - or visit their website

www.oaklandnurseries.co.uk

CANNA FACTS

Canna lilies are classified in three groups - the ornamental- leaved, the green-leaved and the bronze or black-leaved.

Some of them actually grow in water!

Forms of Canna glauca such as erebus, with soft, pale lemon flowers, will grow to five or six feet in height.

Cannas needs no staking whatsoever.

They're the source of arrowroot.

EAGER WAIT TO SEE AMAZING BLACK AUSTRALIA

What's new?

ON THE green-leaved side, Tim Oakland has introduced many new cultivars to this country.

I now have stock of Pitsfers Salmon Pink, which are very short and boast salmon-pink flowers frilled at the edge, with the lower petals suffused with yellow spots.

Currently in flower in my garden is Picasso with soft yellow flowers and light red spots - a little bit taller at about 21/1 feet than the Pitsfers series.

King Midas is another good yellow that's very reliable and very free-flowering.

At the other end of the spectrum is Brilliant with its dark green foliage and blood-red flowers. It frequently reaches seven feet or more. If you're into pinks then Prince Charmant is another tall cultivar with carmine rose flowers.

What about purple or bronze-leaved types? I'm growing varieties such as Angel Martin which dates back to 1915 - another tall variety with pale pewter bronze foliage and flowers that are soft apricot suffused to rose.

I've been growing Plantagenet, a medium- height variety with deep strawberry-pink iris-shaped flowers for some years, along with Wyoming, with its very vigorous, broad, dark-veined leaves and large orange flowers.

But perhaps most stunning are the variegated Cannas. There's much confusion here over three plants called Durban, Phazian and Tropicana, which all seem to be the same. The only difference is that Durban and Tropicana have plant breeders' rights on them, making them expensive at around pounds 10 each.

New in Tim's catalogue are cultivars such as Cleopatra, Pink Sunrise, Pink Sunburst, Peach Blush and Harvest Yellow - but you'll have to wait a while for the one everybody's talking about.

It's a black Canna called Australia - a six-footer with jet black leaves and the most beautiful orangey-red flowers!

CAPTION(S):

TOP MAN... Tim Oakland and some of the lilies that have won him prizes all over the country
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Living
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 2, 2001
Words:941
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