It seems that the colorful caladium has become this summer's popular garden plant. A local…
In mid March I found in the local Job Lots a bag of three caladium bulbs. The variety was called ‘candidum’ which just glows with its green veins on large white leaves.
I knew that the caladium needed a lot of shade. Since shade fills my garden much of the day, I decided to grow it and planted the bulbs in a clay pot. Though it took several weeks, the caladium leaves finally appeared. [below]
What I did not know is that this plant has long been a part of first the English garden and then the American garden.
James Vick in his 1880 seed catalog called Floral Guide presented an illustration of a flowerbed with rather tall tropical plants, including a caladium. He wrote, “They give us a taste of the luxuriance and glory of tropical foliage, and on lawns where there is sufficient room, nothing will afford greater pleasure. We give an engraving showing one of these beds. It was fourteen feet in diameter.” [below]
Vick then described the plants in the bed in these words, “The tall plants in the center included three Ricinus, or Castor Oil Plants, the next row nine Canas, about eighteen inches apart; then a circle of nine Caladiums, about thirty inches apart.”
Just a few years later Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan sought to learn more about the caladium. He wrote in the 1884 issue of his magazine Gardeners Monthly , “Having the past Spring come into possession of some Caladium bulbs, the growth of which has since proved a source of great satisfaction, I desire to inquire more about this interesting family of plants.”
The English by that year had already cultivated several varieties of the caladium.
An article in the January 12, 1884 issue of the English garden magazine called Gardener’s Chronicle said, “Among the many varieties of stove plants [needing bottom heat] the Caladium holds an important place. Public admiration is not unduly lavished on it for its beauty, its delicacy, and its graceful and ornamental appearance.”
The article then listed twenty-three varieties of caladium, including ‘candidum’, described in these words: “Candidum, with large bright white leaves, and with finely marked green ribs and borders.”
Never did I suspect that the day I entered that Job Lots store would provide a journey into garden history, but that’s what happened.
Caladium grows in my garden of shade.