Cool Plants for Hot Months

My garden journal entries between August 31 – September 13, 2000 tell a sad tale of devastation. Temperatures steadily rise from 108 degrees to the highest readings at Nonesuch, 120 degrees in the sun on September 4 and 5. Record red ozone alerts posted each day. Warning: Stay indoors. Hallelujah for my blooming cannas, crinums and coneflowers.

These three Cs, cannas, crinums and coneflowers, introduce my list of cool plants. To some, they may seem common and old-fashioned. To me, it is the whole point. Tried-and-true naturalized Texas perennials, such as cannas, will tough it out in our changing warmer climate swings to return with vigor this year and next.

What is old is new again. In Old House Gardens catalog from Ann Arbor, Michigan, two full pages are devoted to cannas on tall and short stalks with nearly every color of bloom. Cannas and other tropical roots and bulbs are enjoying a surge of interest because of the wide variety of foliage colors and exotic variegations now available. Although cannas are native to the Americas, they have been prized and bred in Europe, especially France, since late the 1500s.

‘Red King Humbert,’ was introduced in 1902, but its variegated burgundy and green leaves make it a new rage. I grow this 6 to 8 foot canna in the ground, full sun, as well as in large pots with afternoon shade. Humbert’s flame red blooms and bronze leaves against the putty color of my house is a look that pleases me. Cannas in the ground bloom better, require less water, and grow taller than the ones in pots. I cut old stalks and foliage back to the soil and feed them heavily in February. Then stand back and watch them like Jack and his beanstalk.

My friend and nurseryman Don Champion laughs when I mention growing cannas. He says, "Cannas are so easy. If you fail with cannas, you might as well give up gardening." Some of my friends can’t get rid of their cannas, no matter how often they mow them. However, in other gardening circles, the canna is considered exotic, not common.