Growing cannas and giving cannas

The canna roots were in a box labeled “Free” along College Street. This was during the first year (1989) or so we lived in Virginia. We took some of the roots, (technically, rhizomes, but “roots” is easier to write) and off we grew.  After growing and dividing our small patch on Union Street, we took some of the roots to the Weavers Mennonite Church food pantry garden.  Then in 2000 we moved some of the roots to Upland Drive. Along the way, we shared the roots with others, too.

Food Pantry Garden Cannas

When Weavers Mennonite Church started a food pantry garden there were gladiolus in the garden. Since there so many glads, I took a bunch of them to Patchwork Pantry along with the vegetables. While I took the flowers for decoration, one of the workers took the flowers and divided them among some of the clients.  We had a good supply of glads, so we brought more the next week and later planted zinnias to extend the flower giving season. When glad production was slowing down, someone said, “Why not take canna flowers?”  So, we added canna flowers to the bouquets.  That continued for several years. 

The cannas developed vigorously in the soil enriched by bags and bags of leaves and grass clippings supplemented by gallons of coffee grounds from several convenience stores.  Soon we had too many roots.  To keep the roots from freezing over winter, our usual practice was to create a mound of dry leaves over the canna roots in the fall. When we had too many roots, we left one section of cannas uncovered.  That winter was a mild one and the cannas did not freeze. 

Cannas as fundraisers

Someone asked, “Can we sell the roots?”  So, we dug, divided, cleaned and took the roots to the local gift and thrift where they sold rapidly.  We wondered why they sold so quickly.  (I had priced them according to last year’s nursery prices.)  Later, I read that the area that usually grows canna roots had enough bad weather to significantly reduce the crop and drive up prices.  Maybe we should have raised our prices, too.

Caring for cannas

After the food pantry shut down, we continued to grow cannas in our garden.  The four foot by ten-foot patch made a striking sight in the far end of the garden from the house.  Sometimes they grew to more than ten feet tall as shown in the picture of me holding a yardstick over my head.  Often, we found enough dry leaves to raise a pile more than a foot high.  Sometimes, for additional insulation, we also put bags of leaves in the paths. 

Cannas above my head!

In April, we would remove the leaves from the bed.  Then some weeks later we would see the roots sprouting.  We would remove a good number of sprouted roots from the bed and leave mostly unsprouted ones.  Eventually, there always seemed to be enough to fill the bed.  Every few years the roots became crowded.  Sometimes they pushed out the sides of the bed boards.  The large roots with sprouts we potted for donation.  The smaller ones or ones without sprouts were placed in the shade until we were sure whether they would sprout.  Then several would go into a pot.  The ones that didn’t sprout in a reasonable period of time went into the compost pile, where they sometimes sprouted.  Some of the canna roots we gave to friends and some we donated to charitable plant sales and to Gift and Thrift. 

The less than a dozen roots we found along the street in the early 90s provided beauty for us at two homes, flowers for clients of Patchwork Pantry, and roots for fund raisers for several charities.  Now, after 20 years of growing cannas on Upland Drive, we are leaving the cannas for new owners of this property.  We hope that the giving continues.