Thinking Outside the Box: The Right Plant For the Wrong Area

First off let me say that the tags on plants that tell you the planting zones and light/moisture requirements for the plant are invaluable.  I would be lost without them.  However, these specs cover a pretty broad range of conditions.  For example, I live in a suburb of Dallas Texas, Zone 8a: pretty mild winters except for the 1 ice storm in January, long periods of drought and summers that are hot as crap! (As I may have mentioned before.)  Seattle, Washington is also Zone 8a but they have cold, snowy winters, cloudy and rainy conditions and mild wet summers.  So what grows in Zone 8 in Seattle may not necessarily do well here and vice versa.  Horticulturists have tried to work out a heat indexing system that will address this but it is not commercially used (yet) and tends to be a little confusing when you have to use it and the regular zone map together.  Gardening books and internet sites and even some blogs are useful in identifying plants that will do well locally but it’s tough to research that stuff on your iphone standing in the middle of Lowe’s garden center.

My point is, and I do have one, is that all the tags, books, and blogs cannot replace your own experience and first-hand knowledge of your own little garden patch.  Case in point: These are Canna Lilies.  They grow in zones 7-11.  They are tropical plants requiring consistently moist soil suitable even for bog conditions and are prized because they will take direct sun and bloom all summer.  I am not usually a fan of Cannas because they are often planted in large clumps (or they become large clumps) and the papery blooms turn brown and hang around on the tops of the stems looking like old newspapers unless you are diligent about trimming them off- which doesn’t sound like me at all!  These pictured are not in my garden.  Would that I had so much sunny gardening space!

But when I first starting planting, I really did not know about what constituted part shade/light shade/ full shade and what to plant where.  So I killed a lot of money – I mean plants!  One winter, a friend offered me all the “lilies” I could dig up in his yard.  I didn’t know that he meant Canna Lilies.  I jumped at the opportunity.  The next weekend a very loyal friend of mine and I went and dug up about fifty tubers.  Ignorant of any rational locale selection criteria, I planted them directly under a large live oak tree in deep (and I mean no sun ever) dry shade, facing west, next to an 8 foot wood fence.  They sprouted the first spring and even bloomed but by then I knew that I had planted them in a site with the direct opposite conditions that they require!  So I figured they would last the summer and I would dig them up in the fall and move them to a more suitable locale.  Well one thing being another, come fall, my natural inclination to laziness kicked in and, after all, they were free, and I really have no place better to move them to…..so they stayed where they were.  Next spring they came up like clockwork, doubled in quantity and over 6 foot tall!  No blooms though which is fine by me because of the whole old newspaper thing.  And they grow there still in deep dry shade.  Here they are six years later:

I love the broad leaves with red stripes and they look great in
this really neglected area. I never have to water them, don’t fertilize, and in
the fall, I can cut them down or let them die back. Either way I leave the
cuttings where they fall to mulch and replenish the bed. Nothing else grows
here. Even the live oak doesn’t bother to put out runners in this area (you can
see it rising just above the fence in picture #3) because this is Canna
territory and they don’t look kindly on interlopers.

So if you are a newbie or even a master gardener. Stretch a little. Challenge
yourself to plant something that isn’t supposed to grow where you put it or at
least look at plant tags as general guidelines instead of absolute law. That
plant may surprise you and not only grow but thrive. And if not, well, I read
somewhere that if you are not killing half the things you plant, you really
aren’t gardening hard enough!

Happy gardening and remember, “bee” positive!

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