Old House Gardens
From America’s Expert Source for Heirloom Flower Bulbs
Here’s a wealth of information about CANNAS from our email Gazette and past catalogs, starting with the most recently published.
For information about Canna ‘Ehemanii’, see our Diverse Spring-Planted archives. For other topics, please see our main Newsletter Archives page.

Canna Virus: Your Questions Answered

As announced earlier [see below], we’ve regretfully decided to stop selling cannas due to a relatively new and little-understood virus that’s attacking cannas worldwide. Many of you emailed us in sympathy and support (thanks!), and we were happy to hear that many of your cannas are still healthy and happy.
You also asked us a lot of questions, so for answers we turned to our friend Keith Hayward of the UK National Collection of Canna. The virus devastated cannas in Keith’s part of the world years before it caused major problems here in the US, and Keith is utterly frank. Learn more here. (Sept. 2010)

Where Have All Our Cannas Gone?

Although we love them, and we’ve worked hard to preserve and share the best of them with you, we’ve decided to stop selling cannas — at least temporarily.
A new virus has been attacking cannas worldwide in recent years, and despite herculean efforts by our expert American growers, we’ve become troubled by what we’ve started seeing in our trial gardens and hearing from our customers.
You come to us for great bulbs, and that’s exactly what we want to send you. When we can once again be sure that every canna we ship is superbly healthy, we’ll return them to our catalog — and celebrate! But right now that’s beyond our reach.
There is one canna we’re still offering — ‘Ehemanii’. It’s the only one grown for us in a tiny nursery in Texas, and it’s still as healthy as can be.
And we’re not abandoning our other rare cannas altogether. With an eye to the future — and the possibilities that tissue-culture offers — our indomitable Missouri grower will continue growing the best of them as scientists, farmers, and enthusiasts around the globe search for solutions.
Coming to this decision has been a painful process. Our mission, after all, is to “Save the Bulbs,” and we feel for our growers. But we’re convinced it’s the right decision. If any of the cannas we’ve sent you developed streaked, mottled, or twisted leaves, we recommend that you destroy them and please let us know so we can give you a credit or refund. Then together we’ll look forward to brighter days ahead for cannas and those who grow and love them. (July 2010)

Enduring Hard Times: Cannas Up from the Basement

Gardening teaches us hope, and with winter closing in and the economy still sputtering, here’s a story of endurance and bouncing back that we hope you’ll find inspiring. Dennis Stachura of Great Meadows, NJ, writes:
“Several years ago I purchased an old farm house in northern NJ and in the process of renovating it I had to remove a lot of soil from the basement. The soil was piled up outside my house in late winter, and when spring arrived I noticed two plants coming up in the soil mounds that looked very tropical. As they grew I began to suspect they were cannas, and once they began blooming I tried to identify them. The best I was able to do, though, was to confirm that they were indeed cannas and that they were not any modern varieties.
“To my surprise, while exploring your site I saw a picture of one of my plants, Canna indica. My only guess is that there were seeds in that basement soil and that they germinated when exposed to light and water. Do you know how long canna seeds remain viable? These had to be here for at least 60 years, since we’ve talked to many neighbors and past owners and none of them ever had any cannas around the house.
“From those single plants that first year I have managed to increase their numbers significantly, to the point that each fall now I cannot dig and store them all.”
The seed coat of cannas is so hard the plant was originally known as Indian shot, so it makes sense that they could remain viable for 60 years or more. Some other kinds of seeds have demonstrated even more amazing endurance. A lotus seed from a Chinese tomb, for example, sprouted after 1200 years, and a date pit excavated in Israel sprouted after 2000 years. So take hope, and hang in there! (Dec. 2009)

Ryan Gainey’s Tips for Canna indica

Romantic garden designer Ryan Gainey calls us every now and then with tips, requests, and reports on what’s looking especially good in his garden. Our Canna indica was at the top of his list when we talked last month. He calls it by its old name, Indian shot (the round black seeds are as hard as buckshot), and says the big clump of it in his Georgia garden looks even better now that he’s planted chartreuse ‘Limelight’ hydrangea and yellow ‘Hyperion’ daylily alongside it.
Indica looks great in bouquets, too, he says, especially when it’s combined with fiery little ‘Atom’ gladiolus. Give that a try, tell us what you think, and we’ll let Mr. Gainey know the next time he calls.

Are These Cannas on Steroids?

Nope, but our good customer Ruth Riegel of Casey, Illinois, was impressed with them anyway:
“I got three Canna indica from you this past spring, and one of the clumps I dug up yesterday is over two feet across. Amazing for not-so-well-drained clay soil (though I do add lots of horse manure). Oh, and the ‘Cleopatra’ canna went berserk with three different foliages — green, bronze, and variegated — and flower colors. What fun!” (Dec. 2008)

Tips for Storing Cannas (But Only If You Want To!)

Our best advice can always be found under Planting and Care at our website. Remember, though, that temperatures and humidity vary from region to region and even house to house, so you may have to experiment to find what works best for you. When you do, send us your tips! We’re always eager to learn. (Nov. 2007)

Cannas in Colonial Gardens

Though cannas may seem flamboyantly modern, these New World natives were pictured in John Gerard’s Herbal of 1597, and in 1735 Peter Collinson of London wrote to his friend and fellow plant-collector John Custis of colonial Williamsburg:
“The seed you Call Indian frill Wee call Cana Indica or Wild Plaintain or Bonana from some Resemblance in the Leafe. With us it is perannuall by secureing the Roots from the Frost & Comes up Ev’ry Spring.” (March 2007)

Canna Poetry: “Sprouting Across Time”

If you don’t already have a favorite poem about cannas, here’s one we highly recommend. Inspired by our heirlooms (check out the dedication) and written by our good customer Diane Dees of Covington, Louisiana, it not only won a prize in the Binnacle Second Annual Ultra Short Competition, but just last month it was published in Australia’s Bikwil magazine.
“Canna Mania,” by Diane Dees
(for Scott K.)
Antique cannas startle me in the garden.
Bold leaves of bronze, olive finely striped,
green blades with vermillion veins, paint-box
blooms of sunrise and sunset, peaches and melons.
Watermelon-red slurped by ruby-throats
buzzing frantically around ancient rind.
Scarlet/yellow harlequin pinwheel,
random pats of butter streaked by Devon cream,
technicolor leopard skin,
lozenges of orange, orpiment flames.
sometimes Monet, often Rothko;
Victorian madness, sprouting across time,
mine for the price of a rhizome   (June 2006)

Nationwide Canna Shortage

Last year’s erratic weather was tough on canna farmers throughout the US, with some reporting crops reduced as much as 50%. So don’t be surprised if you can’t get the varieties or quality you want this spring, both locally and by mail. We reserved most of our cannas months ago, but our sales are up and it looks like we’ll sell out of many of them earlier than ever. We’d get more if we could, but we can’t, so please order now! (Jan. 2006)

Cannas Are Great in Pots, Too

Most of our spring-planted bulbs – including cannas – are as easy and fun to grow in pots as they are in the garden. Cannas like heat, so they’re typically happy on decks and paving where pots may get too hot for other plants. They’ll want lots of water, so keep their saucers filled with water or try mixing hydro-gels into the soil. They’ll also get big, so plant accordingly. (2005-06 catalog)

Get Inspired by a Real Victorian Pattern-Bed

A hundred years ago and more, Victorian gardeners were enjoying many of the same, vibrant, spring-planted bulbs and annuals that are thrilling gardeners again today. So how about jazzing up your lawn this year with a Victorian-style island bed? For inspiration, take a look at a real 1880s pattern-bed. You could reproduce it in the middle of your own lawn with castor-beans in the center ringed by cannas (our heirlooms, of course!), then elephant ears, coleus, and finally dusty miller.
Or experiment with other plants, old or new, of similar stature and flair, planting the tallest in the center and working outward in concentric circles until you finish with a low-growing annual for a colorful, clean edge. We’ve made some alternative plant suggestions online, but we’d love to hear yours, too. Or email us a photo of your results this summer! (March 2005)

One Customer’s Vibrant Bedding Plans

Our good customer Diane McCue of Wethersfield, Connecticut, wrote in response to the Victorian bedding plans we offered in our last newsletter:
“My summer garden plans include a giant circle planted with tall cannas in the middle, then dwarf Mexican sunflowers, and then about 40 dark-leaved basil plants. Another circle will be peach-colored cannas in the middle with ribbon-grass bunches around the outer rim. Last year the giant circle was red-and-bronze ‘Roi Humbert’ [currently not available] canna in middle surrounded by a shorter canna, then some spider plants (Cleome), and then large yellow marigolds. Every year it’s different!” (April 2005)

Canna History 101

For our brief and entertaining history of cannas, click here. Read what gardeners from 1629 through the 1893 World’s Fair and beyond have had to say about these bold summer beauties. Get growing tips and links to other canna resources, too. Then you can say, “I’ve been to Canna College!” (June 2003)

Fine Gardening Spotlights Our “Antique Beauties”

The May/June issue of Fine Gardening magazine features a great article (if we do say so ourselves) by our own Scott Kunst. It’s titled “Antique Beauties: Heirloom Dahlias, Gladiolus, and Cannas,” and it includes dramatic photos of a baker’s dozen of our very best. Check it out! (June 2003)

“The Outhouse Canna”

‘Robert Kemp’ looks like a species canna from the earliest days of cannas in gardens, before late-Victorian breeders introduced the blowsy, wide-petaled cannas that were to become the norm. Its tiny, vibrant red petals – like flickering tongues of flame – are massed together into torch-like clusters on six-foot stalks above luxuriant green leaves. One of the fastest-growing cannas, its height and vigor – and probably its antiquity – have in some places earned it the role and nickname of “the outhouse canna.” Beyond that, its history is obscure (please tell us anything you know). Hummingbirds love it! (Feb. 2003)

The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Cannas

New in 2002, this is the first book devoted to cannas in almost a century, a testament to their resurging popularity. Written by our friend Ian Cooke, who visited us on his research tour for the book, it includes chapters on canna history, botany, cultivation, and on weaving cannas into the garden. Best of all is a comprehensive A-to-Z of cannas, including scores of both subtle and flamboyant garden forms – many historic – as well as the diverse species. With 92 gorgeous color photographs, it’s a fascinating book for connoisseurs and newcomers alike. (Feb. 2003)

Marybeth (and Hummingbirds) Recommend Cannas

Our good customer Marybeth Hawn of Aylett, Virginia, writes:
“Cannas are a wonderful addition to the summer garden. They add an upward dimension, stunning color, and a stark contrast to the little hummingbirds who visit them regularly. This year mine outdid themselves despite the drought.” (Jan. 2003)

Keeping Your Cannas Hydrated and Thriving

Cannas like LOTS of water. In our trial gardens here we build a ring of soil around each plant and fill it with water every day or two, or we set pots of them in saucers kept full of water. Regular fertilizing helps these heavy feeders, too. (Sept 2002)

Pearly, Mysterious, Subtle, Sophisticated – Cannas!

Our good customer Susan St. Maurice of Bedford, Massachusetts, writes:
“I was bowled over by the cannas I ordered from you! Both ‘Mme. Angele Martin’ – with her pearly, mysterious foliage – and ‘Mme. Paul Caseneuve’ – the most astonishing blend of pink, peach, and fleshy rose – were so subtle and glowing, with such rich and sophisticated colors. Everyone who visited my garden oohed and aahed over them. I planted them close to my swimming pool, so that I can watch them as I swim laps. I plan to order a bunch of other colors from you next spring!” (2002-03 catalog)

Keeping Cannas in Pots Well-Watered with Less Work

Here’s a helpful tip from our good customer Melissa Oldsberg of Chaska, Minnesota:
“I like to plant my cannas in large pots on the deck, but they like a lot of water and can dry out quickly there. So I use ‘rain gel’ granules in my pots. They’re a potassium-based, ‘super-absorbent polymer’ (which works much better than the sodium-based kind). Only one small teaspoon of granules will easily keep a pot of cannas moist for 7-10 days.” (2000-01 catalog)


For articles on other topics, see our main Newsletter Archives page.

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