“You spend an awful lot of time agonizing over leaves,” Joe, my partner, said to me the other day as we drove around the neighborhood. His statement was in response to my noticing that some homeowners had bagged their leaves in plastic bags while others had bagged them in recyclable brown paper bags, which the township now requires.
Changing leaves and cooling temperatures can only mean one thing. It’s time to complete the saving process. By now, elephant ears and canna have been drying out for about a week — and now I have to get them ready for their long winter’s nap.
The final step is pretty much the same for both elephant ears and canna. You will need peat moss, some kind of storage containers (like brown paper bags), a shovel, and a room that stays relatively dry and evenly cool so that the plants can be lulled into a deep sleep without freezing. If the final storage location is too damp or warm, the plants never get a chance to rest and they are at risk of rotting away — and after so much work getting to this point, that would be a shame.
I’ve had to make a difficult decision this year about my collection of canna. What started with a few corms has, over the years, become an overwhelming amount of plants — even after giving corms away. And the increase in plants also means an increase in labor, and I’m reaching a point (for several reasons) where I have to cut back. So, I’ve decided to not save canna and to instead start fresh next year. In the meantime, though, I thought it was still important to repost the steps that I’ve followed to keep the canna coming.
The recent heat wave may have been a bit extreme, but at this moment I’m sitting inside with a blanket pulled up to my chin. It’s not that I’m feeling under the weather. Instead, I’m feeling the weather. I think when the heat wave broke, it also broke summer. Clouds, rain, and cool temperatures have been the order of the day. The last few days, actually.
What’s a cold gardener to do?
Okay, maybe not in the entire world – but certainly in my world.
This is the first weekend where fall really feels like fall – as in leaf fall, temperature fall, and mood fall. As much as I would love to live in denial and believe that I can still put on a pair of shorts and sandals and play like it’s July, the cold front that came in last night has proven that the calendar is indeed correct.
Today was a day to begin cleaning up the fall.
The first order of business was to hack and dig the tropicals and prepare them for winter storage. The sensible voice in my head knew that this was a mercy killing, a necessary evil so that the canna and elephant ears may live to see another summer – at least in my zone 6/7 garden. But the emotional voice inside of me said, “Waaaaaahhhhhhh.”
There is a certain sadness when I look about the waning October garden. So many blooms have faded and turned to seed; so many leaves have dulled.
And then there are the red hot flowers, looking a bit out of place and overly made-up amid the first flush of autumn’s golds and yellows and rusts.
And that’s when my imagination takes hold.
I know. This is a gardening blog and this post will not exactly be a gardening one – but I will try and find a connection. It may be a stretch, but it will be a gardening connection of sorts. Besides, how often can anyone say that they’ve had the chance to meet themselves – or at least their 20-year-old self?
In past posts, I’ve explained that there is a cement crawlspace behind a closet in my house. It’s my winter storage bunker for elephant ears and canna. What I never told you is that my perfectly dry and evenly cool space also holds some boxes and crates filled with my past.
I’ve always thought about cleaning things out, but whenever I’m in the bunker, I’m either loading or unloading plant materials – and gardening, like time and tides, waits for none. So, my past has remained undisturbed for the 25 years that I have lived with Joe.
Until the other day, that is, when a local cable guy arrived to rewire the house and I had to empty out the bunker – without the excuse of elephant ears and canna. My personal time capsule would, at last, be opened.
Before I get into this post, I wanted to send out a special thanks to those of you who took the time to add a caption to the previous post. Your creativity and humor were wonderful treats after I arrived home and logged in to catch up on blog duty. I’m still smiling and LOL-ing!
I’m not a fan of the Western. I have always found the film genre too gritty, too violent, and too filled with underhanded, unsavory characters. I like comedy, drama, melodrama, a soundtrack, and always a happy ending.
But when Joe and I arrived home at 3:00 a.m. after a marathon drive from Fort Lauderdale, we entered the house as if we were a couple of sun-baked cattle rustlers in our own Western. Unshaven. Sweaty. Delirious. Exhausted. Even our mouths were tired as we spoke to on another with jaws that were just shy of clenched. Ironically, our newly repaired covered wagon — I mean the car — was in better shape than we were! Any thoughts or worries about my garden would have to wait until daylight — or at least until I was prepared to see daylight.
The forecasters, however, had other ideas about daylight. It seems that the next few days would be filled with heavy thunderstorms, strong winds, and possible hail. What’s a gardener in search of a happy ending to do?
Once the Elephant Ears were cleaned and planted, it was time to turn my attention to Canna. Like their large-leaved companions, Canna are also over-wintered in brown paper bags filled with peat moss and then stored in the cement bunker at a steady, cool temperature. (One year, I stored them in the garage, which was too cold and too moist. The result was a smelly, mushy mess.)
For this demonstration, I’ll use my absolute most favorite Canna, “Black Knight.” The leaves are big and bold and bronzy red, with hot red blooms. And the rhizomes, well, they’re meaty. That’s right. Meaty.
For the sake of saving time, I thought I would combine the final packing practice for Canna and Elephant Ears. Besides, I don’t think I can actually type the words Canna and Elephant Ears one more time.
The process is pretty much the same for both plants. You will need peat moss, some kind of storage container (like brown paper bags), a shovel, and a room that stays relatively dry and evenly cool so that the plants can be lulled into a deep sleep without freezing. If the final storage location is too damp or warm, the plants never get a chance to rest and they are at risk of rotting away — and after so much work getting to this point, that would be a shame.
Step 3: I tend to really pack the bags. I’m not sure if this is correct, but it’s likely that I do this for the sake of space, since I have so many corms to pack away. Once the bag is full, I then add more peat moss to the bag, shaking the bag so that the peat moss settles and covers the corms.
Now for the Elephant Ears. Last year, I stored the Elephant Ear bulbs in a plastic crate lined with a plastic bag. I’m not sure if this had to do with my loss of energy and wanting to finish the task, needing to save space, or just running out of bags. Either way, it worked. By the way, don’t be surprised if your Elephant Ears have continued to grow since you dug them up.
The Final Step: Here is the Safe Room — a cement bunker/bomb shelter hidden behind Joe’s closet in the bedroom. Now, anyone who knows me or who has read previous posts understands that I have an active imagination. As my summer plants continue to live, enclosed behind the closet, my mind races back and forth between Edgar Allen Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher and the classic sci-fi film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. So far, the Safe Room is protecting Joe and me. So far. . .