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CALLA LILIES GIVE PANACHE TO A PORCH

by Tovah Martin

The porch was okay, but it wasn’t really a destination—unless you were tired and needed a rocking chair. And it had potential—in fact, it had a few feet of empty space just begging to cradle window boxes. But, in keeping with the restive ambiance of the rockers, I wanted a conversation piece that wouldn’t jar the senses. And, the back of my house seriously needed something to add a little botanical “bowtie” for the porch. When Longfield came out with their collection of calla lilies, they were just the ticket.

THE CHALLENGE:
I needed filler for a pair of window boxes that would spark conversation for anyone who might settle into the rocking chairs, but I needed low maintenance. After all, who wants to be a slave to their porch display? Plus, the porch wasn’t within the range of a hose. I wanted something tall enough frame the garden beyond, but not so tall that it blocked the view from my office windows. For the backyard, anything would do.
 
THE SOLUTION:
With my white cottage as the background looking in from the street, and the flamboyant garden as the background looking out from the office windows, I decided that a black calla was the perfect color. It wouldn’t compete with the garden, but it would look sharp against the faux-cement fiberglass containers. In addition, I had an antique wooden captain’s chest that I use as a window box behind my converted barn—lavender callas would put a smile on that space.
 
THE CAST OF CHARACTERS:
The calla lilies were really the star attractions, their companion fillers were just understudies. I had never seen anything like the black ‘Night Cap’ calla lilies before. So I decided to play their container against the white ‘Crystal Clear’. Initially, sweet potato vines were planted to drape down the sides of the faux-cement containers, but they became bug-riddled and their leaves were pocked with holes. So I switched mid-season to Plectranthus forsteri ‘Green on Green’ (alias Plectranthus forsteri ‘Aureus Variegatus’) and it was a stunner. For the captain’s chest, I combined Calla lily ‘Lavender Gem’ with Salvia argentea ‘Hobbit’s Foot’.
 
THE PAY OFF:
Midsummer is when the garden slows down, but that was just when the calla lily containers revved up. With the help of their container companions, they looked great from early summer onward. And by late summer, they were going strong. The result was definitely a two thumbs up. Would I do it again? You betcha.
Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch
Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch

The front porch wasn’t half bad, but it didn’t match the splendor of the garden. Window boxes were my answer. Because the porch isn’t young, rather than put needless weight on the boards, I went for fiberglass to look like faux-cement and filled it them organic potting soil and added a few plants of Ipomoea ‘Blackie’.

Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch
Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch

Then I planted the calla lilies when danger of frost was absolutely over in mid-May, burying them an inch or so below the soil surface. Placing them with the side with shoots facing upward is key.

Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch
Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch

Three weeks later, promising shoots were jutting a few inches up.

Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch
Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch

By mid-August, right when the rest of the garden was in a lull, the calla lilies were going strong. But meanwhile, I switched the ipomoeas that were pestered by slugs for troublefree Plectranthus forsteri ‘Green on Green’ which was the perfect partner in all ways.

Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch
Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch

The plectranthus were great companions. They kept the calla lilies standing tall and gave them a great collar of complimentary color. 

Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch
Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch

Although ‘Night Cap’ started the season with burgundy flowers, later they deepened to nearly black. And the callas kept on producing until frost. This photo was taken in mid-September.

Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch
Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch

Truly black flowers are rare, but ‘Night Cap’ comes pretty close. 

Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch
Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch

Meanwhile, on the other side of the porch, I’d planted a similar combination, using Calla lily ‘Crystal Clear’ instead of ‘Night Cap’. The idea was one side would be black and the other would be white. 

Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch
Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch

Slightly taller but with a larger blossom, Calla lily ‘Crystal Clear’ worked equally well with the plectranthus.

Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch
Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch

And when an Ipomoea ‘Margarita’ popped up later in the season when I’d cleared out the slugs, it made a truly handsome combination coupled with ‘Crystal Clear’ and the plectranthus. 

Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch
Calla Lilies Give Panache to a Porch

Meanwhile, with more sunlight behind the house, the Calla lily ‘Lavender Gem’ that I coupled with Salvia argentea ‘Hobbit’s Foot’ in the black captain’s chest kept its flowers snuggled close into the silver foliage and looked swell.