Two years ago, we bought a dozen fruit trees and a passel of berry bushes from a nursery near Charlottesville. As we were leaving, a woman I’d been chatting with (I chat with everyone—yes, I’m the one who strikes up a conversation with you at the grocery store, on the airplane, in the parking lot) handed me a root.
“Thanks.” I turned it over, hoping for a label.
“Do you like cannas?”
“Sure. I mean, what’s a canna?”
“Keep it cool now and stick in the ground in the spring. You’ll see.”
Turns out she was one of the owners, and this root was a door prize. And on the way home I realized I actually had heard of cannas but had gotten confused by her strong Southern intonation. I thought she was giving me something with a lot more than two syllables.
I did as she suggested, pointing it pointy side up about four inches deep. In a couple months, a small blade of green poked out of the ground. By midsummer, it bloomed, a showy red that attracted hummingbirds like pigs to poop. I dug up the roots (corms, technically) in the fall, a huge tangled mass of them, brushed off the dirt, wrapped them in burlap and stored them in a box in the greenhouse.
Now, let me confess that I do not, as a rule, go to so much trouble for a flower. I don’t have the time or patience for fussy plants. My job, as I see it, is to provide the right setting, a lot of compost, and a sincere wish of good luck. True, I lavish care on my edible charges but that’s different. That’s food. But a flower? Don’t get me wrong, I adore flowers and understand well the role flowers play as companions to vegetables. But digging up and overwintering roots?
I guess I’m making an exception. The cannas were a gift and it seems wrong not to care for them. And look how beautiful they are! Georgia O’Keefe admired them, too, as you can see.
Here is the second season haul. This winter, they are hanging out with the sweet potatoes and winter squash in the root cellar fridge, waiting for spring.
I have enough to give some away! Maybe that’s reason enough to do the extra work, to make an exception. In fact, a canna root might just be the perfect gift: given casually and without expectation of reciprocation, full of latent beauty, and, the kicker, capable of replicating indefinitely. May all your gifts this holiday season live up to the humble corm!
We planted a new flower bed near the house and have left a space for the cannas. I’ll be sure to post a photo when they are in full bloom next summer. In the meantime, happiest of holidays to you and yours. May all the gifts of the season bloom in your hearts and in your homes.
(Curious about our little orchard? Read this.)
Sonja Yoerg grew up in Stowe, Vermont where she financed her college education by waitressing at the Trapp Family Lodge. She earned a Ph.D. in biological psychology from the University of California, Berkeley and wrote a nonfiction book about animal intelligence, Clever as a Fox. Sonja is the author of four novels: House Broken, Middle of Somewhere, All the Best People, and the upcoming True Places. When she’s not traipsing around the world with her husband, Sonja can be found in her garden overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.