Gardening should be fun and bring joy to our lives. That is why I am always happy to discover a new group of plants that thrive in our climate, grow beautifully without a lot of fuss, and that won’t attract the attention hungry deer looking for the salad bar. Allow me to share one of my favorites….
Zantedeschia species, known as calla lilies, may be one of your favorite florist flowers. These elegant, long stemmed flowers bloom in a wide range of colors including white, pinks, yellows, reds, and deepest purple. Zantedeschia leaves are also beautiful enough that you may enjoy their presence in pots and garden beds throughout the growing season. Some leaves are deep green with white or silver markings. Others may be dark purple or maroon.
Many Zantedeschia species prove hardy in coastal Virginia and may be left in the ground year-round. Tender varieties may be grown in pots overwintered in a frost-free area, or lifted in November, around the time of the first frost. The tubers may be dried, cleaned, and stored through the winter months to be planted again the following April.
Zantedeschia aethiopica grows 2’-5’ tall with a pure white bloom. Z. ‘White Giant’ has large white flowers and white markings on its leaves. Moisture loving, these may be grown to advantage in rain gardens or damp spots in full to partial sun. They grow a bit taller and clumps increase, year to year, in Zones 7a-10b. Z. ‘Swartburg Giant’ grows to 54”, with deep green, heavily ruffled unmarked leaves. Each leaf may be nearly 2’ long. The huge white flowers grow to 7” across. Give both hardy varieties moist, rich soil for best performance.
Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘African Gold,’ grows to only 24”, but has beautiful deep green leaves with gold veins. This white flowering variety is hardy in Zones 8b-10.
Zantedeschia albomaculata, hardy in Zones 7-10, sport white spotted leaves and somewhat smaller white flowers growing 12” to 18”. They may be grown among other perennials in a bed, or they may be grown in pots in the shallow edge of a pond. Keep the bulbs drier if left outdoors over winter. They are very adaptable for full to partial sun, giving the best flowers in full sun.
Another stunning Calla is Zantedeschia ‘Odessa,’ with deep purple, almost black flowers. Its deep green leaves are spotted with white. Far more striking is Z. ‘Memories,’ whose leaves have deep purple stems with some marking. The flowers are nearly black. These are very hardy to Zone 3 and may be left in the ground or in outdoor pots year-round. Grow in part to full sun. As with all Zantedeschias, they flower more in full sun.
Like all members of the Aroid family, Zantedeschia leaves and flowers contain crystalline calcium oxalate, which sting and irritate tender tissue in the mouth of any creature who takes a bite. This keeps them safe from grazers.
Blooming calla lily plants grown in hothouses may be purchased from local shops nearly year-round. These can be planted outside, but please do a little research to determine the hardiness of the cultivar.
Order Zantedeschia rhizomes for spring delivery. The large aethiopica varieties are rarely available locally as plants and generally must be ordered from companies like Brent and Becky’s or Plant Delights. Start them in pots, flats, or even in a zip-lock bag with some damp potting soil. Roots emerge from the top of the rhizome, along with the new stems. Beginners might find it easier to sprout the rhizome before planting to insure it is ‘right side up.’
If growing in containers, remember to provide enough water and nutrition to keep the plant in active growth and bloom. Expect these plants to die back for an annual dormant period whether grown indoors or out. Otherwise, these are easy, beautiful plants to add a touch of elegance to all but the shadiest gardens.