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Designing a Garden with Calla Lilies - A Flower of Delicate Simplicity and Form

Updated on April 17, 2013
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I have a deep interest in nature, gardening, and sustainability. The local arboretum is my universe of learning, and my garden is my lab!

Calla Lilies, A Sturdy, Beautiful Flower

Calla Lilies are originally from South and East Africa and their natural habitat is near marshlands or riverbeds. The genus for Calla Lily is Zantedeschia Aethiopica, in the Araceae family. They like the sun, or dappled shade, but they like to be in moist ground and enjoy company, so, mix them in the back of a perennial border because some varieties grow quite tall. The great thing about these lilies (they actually are not true lilies, but are commonly known as the arum lily) is that they are super weed suppressors. They simply overpower and crowd out the weeds because of their habit of forming many clumps. Think of them as a giant dam holding back the weeds. The Callas keep on going unless you pull them out. I don't know about you but I'd rather have the Callas!

They do well in zones 8-10, and, as an added bonus you can keep them in the ground year round if you reside within these zones. All is not lost if you are in a colder zone, just sink terra cotta pots (with plastic baskets to hold the callas inside of them), into the ground at the back of your border. Grow them until it drops to between 40 and 50 degrees, then, pull the basket out of the terra cotta pot and store them inside, or continue to grow them in a sunny window. This is a great way to have the best of both worlds. They can be easily replanted back into the terra cotta pots in the Spring. I wouldn't recommend growing them indoors if you have pets, Cats are notorious plant munchers, and this flower would probably be destroyed in no time flat.

The spathe (what you might consider a petal), which is actually a modified leaf, in some of these flowers can be 6 inches long. The actual flower of the plant is called the spadix. The white Calla Lily can grow to 36". The leaves of this flower are a dusky green, some with transparent speckles on the leaves. What a dramatic flower masquerading in such a simple form! Every time I look at these, I think of sculpture. Working with this form in copper, clay or silver would be very beautiful. The form is nothing if not elegant.

The simplified beauty of Calla Lillies.
The simplified beauty of Calla Lillies. | Source

A One Petal Flower?

How many flowers do you know of that basically have one petal that goes off on an angle? I'll let you in on a secret: the "petal" is actually a modified leaf. What an enchanting trick of nature! As an artist, I love the simplicity of form of this flower, but it is deceptively difficult to draw (initially). Who knew that one lone "petal" would pose such challenges to an artist? If you're not an artist, take your pleasure in growing them, either indoors or out. There are some hybrids (Rehminni group) that are available in dramatic purples and delicate pinks. There are also some varieties in tropical shades of orange. I think these are particularily beautiful.

Because some varieties of Calla Lilies grow so tall, they would look great in a rectangular vase or conversely, a completely round vase to act as a contrast against their height. They make a clean graphic and strong sculptural statement. Place them in an area that captures the late afternoon light, highlighting the swirls, peaks and valleys of their intriguing form. If you're not sprucing up your house, how about placing these beauties in your garden? These living sculptures will add interest and class to any garden. The flowering phase for these plants is at least two months (with each bloom on the flower lasting about three weeks). They are basically a trouble free plant with few problems. Sometimes they do get root rot (rhizotamus rot and botrytis). If this happens, consult your county extension office in your hometown and get the best advise for your particular area and soil type. Even with these potential problems, I think they're worth the effort and I would recommend them to anybody. Happy gardening and designing to all!

Some Interesting Facts

  • Calla Lily basically means "magnificence and beauty". A fitting meaning for such a regal plant.
  • Calla Lilies can also mean heavenly bliss.
  • Also can symbolize cleanliness, purity, (in thought and form), holiness, truth and brilliance.
  • They have been a symbol of marriage for centuries; conversely, they are also used at funerals.
  • Thought of as a flower that symbolizes the renewal of Spring.


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