Cannas: A piece of tropical bliss in Brussels


If paradise is a garden according to the Bible and preferably, for our north-European imagination, a tropical one, we can have a glimpse of earthly bliss in the flowering cannas you can still find in the many parks and squares of our city. They are under the trees among a quite developed undergrowth of ivies, nicotianas (from the family of the tobacco), and other summer vegetation in square Sacrament, between the Justus Lipsius building and the park Léopold, where you can follow the progress of the alterations of the Institute Eastman into the House of the European History. In a more remarkable position, you can see more of them on the fringe of the lawn in the middle of the funny triangular square Gutenberg, just past square Marie-Louise and its pond with its jet and lively wildfowl.

 
I have some in my front garden as well. They are striking for their stately growth, unfolding oblong leaves and spikes of richly and beautifully coloured flowers in late summer and early autumn. They look like little banana trees and, like them, they are not trees but herbs (tropical herbaceous perennials, botanically). Their lush leaves are broad and very often coppery, adding an extra note of exuberant exoticism.
 
You can grow cannas in summer in a pot or in a border, always in full sun, and when the foliage dies down around the end of October or the beginning of November don’t forget to bring indoors the pot or to lift the fleshy roots (tubers) and store them with some soil or sand in a box in your cellar. Don’t put them in a plastic bag or they will suffocate with humidity and die. Don’t wait too long to do the lifting. You can be taken by surprise by an early frost or snowfall and when you have already made up your mind to dig them up you will find nothing but rotten tubers. Remember that the tropical exuberance of cannas is only a seasonal visitor in these northern latitudes.