Bloom Day in January

I was surprised this week by this pretty cream and pink canna, blooming among some shrubs near the garage. It’s a short variety, and I need to move it to a place where it will get a little more attention.

This is another small canna currently blooming near the patio.

They are all I’ve found in our flower beds, which is a little strange since cannas are such a common plant here.

This is my favorite local variety. It’s medium tall and the blooms are clear orange.

These are my neighbors’ cannas, planted outside their garden walls.

Cannas are so common in Africa that you might think of them as native plants, but all cannas are native to the Americas.  In the U.S., they range from southern South Carolina, west to southern Texas.

Cannas like full sun and consistently moist soil. They have a high tolerance for contaminants and can be used to extract pollutants from wetlands.

The blooms and foliage of cannas have such a strong presence that I think they need to be placed in gardens that are rather dramatic in return and maybe somewhat tropical.

Beautiful use of burgundy-leaved cannas in front of the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, Summer 2011.

Here is a nice old-fashioned garden bed with canna from the South African blog Sequoia Gardens.

Via Sequoia Gardens.

Of course, they’re great in showy pots.

Cannas and coleus at The Morton Arboretum, via This Garden Cooks.

I found an interesting online newsletter, Old House Gardens, which offers a lot of history and advice on the use of cannas.  It reports that Georgia gardener Ryan Gainey uses Canna indica (commonly called Indian Shot) in a big clump with chartreuse ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas and yellow ‘Hyperion’ daylilies.

Russell Page included them in his imaginary personal garden in groups of pots, along with “yuccas, hedychium, Francoa ramose, tigridias, yellow and white lantanas clipped into balls, and the dwarf pomegranate.”

Henry Mitchell lamented in The Essential Earthman that cannas had been swept out of favor, along with geraniums, elephant’s ear, and crotons, “because people remembered well how ridiculous they had looked in the wormy little dribbles of Victorian gardens.”

He recommended the large, red-flowered, green-leaved variety, ‘The President’, with “clumps of ligularias and rhubarbs and so on.”

For cannas with reddish-purple or bronze leaves, Mitchell recommended pairing them with plants of gray and bronze foliage, as well as straw-yellow, buffy, or sharp lemon flowers like daylilies — or with figs, pomegranates, or “chest-high mounds of gray wormwood and black-green yews.”  It is perfectly OK to cut off the canna flowers if they are “too flashy” for you.

Thanks to May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day.

Bird’s eye landscape

A recent visit to the Virunga Safari Lodge in the north of Rwanda made me think of Russell Page’s book, The Education of a Gardener, and his words on handling a hilltop site with a view.

About halfway up the nearest volcano, you can see the line between cultivated fields and the park, where the mountain gorillas live protected.

The Lodge –near the Parc National des Volcans and the famous mountain gorillas — has extraordinary views. Guests can see two lakes and several volcanoes.  But Page wrote that such a location is not ideal for the gardener.

“If I were to choose a site for a garden for myself,” he wrote, “I would prefer a hollow to a hilltop.  A panorama and a garden seen together distract from each other.  One’s interest is torn between the garden pattern with its shapes and colors in the foreground and the excitement of the distant view.  Everything is there at once and one has no desire to wander to make discoveries. . . .”

If, however, one does have to have a view, he advised: “Above all avoid any garden ‘design’ or any flower color which might detract from the main theme, which in such a case must be the view. . . . If there must be flowers they should be close against the house or below a terrace wall and so only visible when you turn your back to the view.  I would arrange the gardened part of the garden — flowers and shrubs — to the sides or far enough below, so that they and the view are not seen at the same time.”

Landscaping around the dining hall and lounge is simple.

The landscape designer for Virunga Lodge seems to have worked right from the book, with beautiful results.

There are a few garden flowers and shrubs, but usually the existing wild brush has simply been cut back to allow for a few flat grassy areas and paved paths.
The focus is on the gorgeous view of Lake Burera.
Local volcanic rock was used in the construction of buildings and walls.
A path to a banda or individual cabin.
A trail to nearby villages. The lake is in the middle distance, topped by more hills and clouds.

About three hours drive from Kigali, the Lodge has eight “bandas” or individual cabins, which operate on solar power and use rainwater recovered from the rooftops.  It is very expensive at $600 per person per night,* although this is inclusive of all food and drink (including alcohol).  (We just stopped by for a look.)

This simple grass “room” sits along one of the main paths.
The path crosses this room, which is outlined with a low wall.
A long room with regularly spaced columns near the entrance to the Lodge.
The bandas have stone terraces.

To get a better sense of the layout and location of the Lodge (and what it’s like to arrive by helicopter), you can watch this short YouTube video.

The same morning as our stop at the Lodge, we visited two local schools and a nearby village family. Our guide was an American businessman working with faith-based development endeavors in Rwanda.  He took us to the site of a house he is building for himself. At the moment, it’s just a stone and concrete foundation set on the edge of a hill.

But again, the views were absolutely amazing.  He wisely plans to leave the land surrounding the house (which is all sloping downward) very natural, hoping to attract as many birds as possible.

Lake Burera.

Living here, one might begin to feel like a bird.

*There are reductions for Rwanda residents.