A Gardening Journal

The Best Season Ever: Ehemanii Canna

When you've drunk the Koolaid as deeply as I have—in this case, from the cup labeled "Cannas! Yum!"—each little difference, one cultivar to the next, can send you soaring.


And with cannas, there are zillions of differences among the many hundreds of cultivars: overall size; leaf shape, size, color, and variegation; flowers, ditto; tubers, ditto; showy stems or seeds; and aquatic or terrestrial habitats. Perhaps most elusive is current societal verdict: is a given canna now perceived as tacky, elegant, classic (but still possibly tacky), shocking-but-fun, shockingly-new-but-fun, or downright kick-ass?

Canna x ehemanii 081917 320

Canna x ehemannii defines its own category: classic, difficult to source, and—unique in all cannas—with pendulous flowers. After many years of not finding Ehemanii (or not finding it before the sources were sold out for that season), I finally scored. It will now be mine forever. When you've drunk the Canna Koolaid, this is big news.

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Must Have: Bottlebrush Buckeye

Could any shrub in full flower be more exciting? Especially in August, when the flowering woody plants here in New England are so often hydrangeas, butterfly bushes, and roses of sharon.

Aesculus parviflora overall 080517 320

Bottlebrush buckeye isn't just on my list of top-ten shrubs hardy in Zone 5; it tops it. No garden should be without it, and I've used it for decades in projects for clients. Why then, is this magnificent speciment not mine but, rather, one seen by the roadside in Lenox, MA? Why haven't I established bottlebrush buckeye in my own garden?

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Red Oaks, Extraordinary at any Size

Let an acorn sprout and in sixty years or so, you, too, could be looking at a mighty oak. Here is one of a slew of red oaks thriving along the Niagara River, which connects Lake Erie with Lake Ontario. I was fortunate to stroll past such monarchs, one after another, on a morning walk during an annual trip to theater festivals in Ontario.

Quercus rubra NOTL overall 080417 320

Quercus rubra is also easy to establish in a garden. But how many of us can welcome a tree with a mature shade-providing canopy seventy feet or more wide? Not me. Happily, other talents than size make red oak a possibility even for a garden that's lilliputian or, in my case, large but packed with sun lovers.

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Early-flowering Borage in Full Foliage

By Summer, early-flowering borage gives no clue that it had ever had a passion for anything other than foliage, with huge heart-shaped leaves that are as thick and overlapping as those of any hosta. Colonies spread diligently, so a single clump will eventually cover several square yards unless restrained. 

Trachystemon orientalis 051517 overall 320

The leaves are rough to the touch and, so, are pretty much left alone by browsers. This borage, then, is a fearless groundcover that goes where no hosta dare. Could any garden have too much of it? Not mine.

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One of the World's Great Camperdown Elms

For about twenty-five years, we have been visiting Langdon Hall, a former estate in Ontario that thrives as a Relais & Chateaux hotel. Its gravitational pull is strong as well as multivalent: nearness to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, sumptuous rooms, adventurous foraged as well as estate-grown food, extensive gardens—and, shading much of the terrace, one of the world's great Camperdown elms.

Ulmus glabra Camperdownii Langdon Hall long view towards back of house 072717 320

I've written with a mixture of reverence, giddiness, and geeky gratitude about a sizable Camperdown in our neighboring village back in Rhode Island. Its steeply cascading canopy could form a children's hideaway. The canopy of this Camperdown projects more sideways than down and, after a century or so, could now comfortably shade a dinner for forty. Why the difference?

Read more: One of the World's Great Camperdown Elms

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