Sunday Dinner: In the Pink

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“The simplest acts of kindness
are by far more powerful
then a thousand heads bowing in prayer.”
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Mahatma Gandhi

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“Do you know what people really want?  Everyone, I mean.
Everybody in the world is thinking:
I wish there was just one other person I could really talk to,
who could really understand me, who’d be kind to me.
That’s what people really want, if they’re telling the truth.”
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Doris Lessing
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“True love is born from understanding.”
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Gautama Buddha

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“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts,
to enter into the places of pain,
to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish.
Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery,
to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears.
Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak,
vulnerable with the vulnerable,
and powerless with the powerless.
Compassion means full immersion
in the condition of being human.”
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Henri J.M. Nouwen

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“It is only with true love and compassion
that we can begin to mend what is broken in the world.
It is these two blessed things
that can begin to heal all broken hearts.”
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Steve Maraboli

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“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar;
it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars
needs restructuring. ”
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Martin Luther King Jr.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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Follow the story here:

Sacred Ground, Now Reclaimed:  A Charlottesville Story

Please join with me in sending love, light, and protection to those whose compassion compels them to make the journey.  Their wounds are yet raw, and from their pain they draw both courage and power.  

Let the revolution of our generation be one of love, compassion and awakening

-WG.

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“Rage — whether in reaction to social injustice,
or to our leaders’ insanity,
or to those who threaten or harm us —
is a powerful energy that, with diligent practice,
can be transformed into fierce compassion.”
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Bonnie Myotai Treace

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“Compassion is the radicalism of our time.”
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Dalai Lama XIV
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Variegation Variations, Another Plant Nerd Mystery….

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When the first red Caladium leaf with white veins and a green and red border opened, I was puzzled.  It didn’t resemble any of the 14 different varieties of Caladiums I had ordered this spring.

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And so I assumed that maybe I’d received a serendipitous bonus; a rogue bulb of a different variety had made it into one of my bags.  I headed back to the Classic Caladiums website in search of the variety to learn its name.  I searched the site every way I knew how, and yet still came up empty handed.

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Caladium ‘Peppermint’

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By then another leaf had opened, and another, all from different bulbs.  I knew that it was indeed a mystery, but not a mistake.

When I heard from Lesley, in internet sales, on another matter,  I sent her a photo of my mystery Caladium.  She indicated that it might be C. ‘Peppermint,’ but promised to check with their CEO, Dr. Robert Hartman, and get back to me.

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I went back to the information on C. ‘Peppermint,‘ which I remembered as a mostly white leaf with a little green and touches of rosy pink.  This is a 2011 Caladium I’ve admired for a while, but ordered this year for the first time.  Sure enough, the photo resembled the mostly white leaves I remembered. (In re-checking the page tonight, at the very bottom of the webpage I see a photo of C. ‘Peppermint’ with the mostly rosy leaves I’ve observed.)

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All the while, our Caladiums kept growing and pumping out new leaves.  By the second week of June, I found a plant with both forms of the variegation on different leaves from the same tuber.  Now how odd is that?

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C. Carolyn Wharton in late May

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The older, traditional Caladium varieties are pretty dependable.  There will be some slight variations in the variegation on a plant like C. ‘Carolyn Wharton’ or C. ‘Miss Muffet,’ but not so much that you wouldn’t recognize them as clearly the same cultivar.  The leaves are more like each other and different from all other Caladium varieties.

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C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ in September 2016 shows a lot of variation in its variegation, too.

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But I’ve noticed a wider range of variations on leaves within a cultivar from Dr. Hartman’s new Caladium introductions.  I noticed it first on C. ‘Sweet Carolina.’ 

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C. ‘Sweet Carolina’

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Depending on the amount of light, moisture and nutrition a plant received, it may vary drastically in both basic leaf color, and also the pattern and amount of variegation.  I find this very entertaining, and I learned to really appreciate this decidedly odd and very large full-sun tolerant Caladium.

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Caladium ‘Highlighter’ June 2017

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When I grew out C. ‘Highlighter’ the first year, I didn’t recognize the plants for a few weeks because the color of the leaves was so variable.  I assumed that some were C. ‘White Delight.’  Some leaves were nearly white and creamy with few markings.  Others were richly colored with many strokes of pink.  But I could trace those variations to culture, because the plants were grown in different locations in the garden.

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Caladiums Chinook and Highlighter blend together well June 2018

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On the same plant, growing in the same conditions, the leaves were similar to one another.

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The first leaf to open on a newly sprouted C. “Desert Sunset’ in late May appears as the reverse image of the C. ‘Peppermint’ leaf….?

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And then came C. ‘Peppermint.’  I was doubly puzzled because the variegation on the mostly rosy leaves was like a mirror image of some of the early leaves on C. ‘Desert Sunset,’ when grown in deeper shade.  How could this be?

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I hope to have the opportunity to discuss this high weirdness with Dr. Hartman some time.  He is the guru of Caladium breeding, and I am positive he has some wonderful stories to tell about new Caladiums he is breeding and the odd variations that he has observed.

I am wondering why two leaves from the same tuber would end up so different from one another.

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Calaldium, ‘Desert Sunset’

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I’m also wondering why the earliest leaves were rosy with white veins, but later leaves emerged mostly white, with some green and rosy pink markings.  What is going on in the plant?   Do growing conditions tip the tuber to produce one sort of leaf over the other?

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C. ‘Peppermint’

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There are many, many mysteries in the plant kingdom; I am only beginning to scratch the surface of the wonders of horticulture.  As with a child, what part of a plant’s growth is nurture, and what part is wild and crazy nature taking a leap to manifest as something entirely new?

I am endlessly fascinated by the work of hybridizers who delight in introducing new colors and forms of beloved plants, and new strains that are stronger, healthier and more versatile than older varieties.  They work with nature and natural processes to give us the great gift of a new and useful plant.

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I love the new Caladiums that can take several hours of sun each day because there are more ways to use them in the garden.

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And I am thoroughly enjoying watching all of my Caldiums grow into their potential this summer.  An ‘outed’ plant nerd extraordinaire, I just can’t get enough of observing the wonderful variations of their lovely variegation.

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Caladium ‘Peppermint’ left, and C. ‘Berries and Burgundy’ right

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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C. ‘Desert Sunset’ is one of the most beautiful Caladiums we have grown… what color!

 

 

Fabulous Friday: Shadows and Shade

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When the sun is shining and the temperature is climbing, it is time to seek shadows and shade.

Our temps here have been running 10 degrees or more above our historical ‘normal’ for better than a month.  Although school is just getting out and our high school seniors in the community graduate this weekend, it already feels like mid-summer.  You feel the burn quickly when caught out in the full sun.  And so the smartest place to spend one’s time is in the shade.

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The fern garden at the bottom of the yard holds the cool and shade we seek.  There is usually a nice breeze, and it is quiet, save for the calls of our resident birds and the hum of bees.  With tall bamboo making a dense wall on one side, and several good sized trees for shelter, we have a beautiful spot that is nearly always sheltered and shaded.

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This is where we have been planting ferns, Hellebores,  and other shade loving perennials for the past eight or so years.  It fills in a little better each year as the plants grow and spread, and as I plant up new parts of the hillside.  In fact, I just developed a large new bed this spring and the ferns are just taking hold and beginning to show new growth.

This shady area gives a great deal of textural interest, but nearly everything here grows in shades of green.  Beyond the early season Helleborus flowers and later daffodils, our shade garden glows in many shades of green, with little touches  of silver sheen on the Japanese painted fern, and the occasional burgundy stem.

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This week, the our huge voodoo lilies, Sauromatum venosum, rise over the garden so their huge, showy leaves may catch every ray of sunlight penetrating the canopy.

Native to tropical parts of Asia and Africa, these unique plants belong to the family of Araceae, like our own native Jack in the Pulpit.  I didn’t really intend to plant Voodoo lily in our garden.  It chose me…

On a late spring trip to Brent and Becky’s Gloucester bulb shop several years ago, the voodoo lily had already begun to grow, their elongated flower stalks breaking free of both their mesh bags and their bottom shelf bin.  A flower stalk caught my ankle as I walked by, drawing my attention.  It reminded me of past trips to the animal shelter when a kitten reaches through the bars of their cage to invite you to play with them.

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A deal was struck, and I bought a large sack full of the poor lilies, straining to escape their bags and grow.  I had to cut each plant out of its mesh bag carefully with sharp scissors to avoid damaging its bloom stalk.  I planted them in many different shady spots.

Each year they catch me by surprise, either with their huge purple flowers early, or these gargantuan leaves in early summer.  The leaves last a few weeks and then fade away.  The bulbs often divide and spread a little between one season and the next.

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I wonder, sometimes, why I don’t spend more time lingering in the shade of our wonderful fern garden.

It may be that I burn up my gardening hours watering the thirsty sun-drenched upper garden.  It may be that I get distracted photographing our pollinator visitors elsewhere, or tending to some much needed weeding or pruning where the growth is more rampant.

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There is always a long to-do list on my mind, and I feel responsible to take care of the garden chores before allowing myself to wander down here  to relax and enjoy the cool, calm beauty of it all.

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But when I finally slip down the hill to the shade, usually hose in hand, I am delighted to spend some time in the shadows, watching for turtles and enjoying the coolness and the beauty of it all.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious. 
Let’s infect one another!

Pot Shots: Caladiums at Last

Caladiums ‘Chinook’ and ‘Highlighter’ blend together well.

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All of the Caladiums are up and growing.  It took a while this year because of our crazy cool spring.

In fact, I still have a tray of C. ‘Moonlight’ on my deck, waiting for me to commit to where I’d most enjoy them this summer.  There are only 10 left, and so many places I’ve considered planting them.

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C. ‘Moonlight,’ overwintered from last summer’s garden.  These pure white leaves appreciate bright shade.

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Back in the day, one just assumed that Caladiums required a shady spot.  With the new hybrids, many can take full sun.  That means I am constantly checking back with the grower’s site to make sure I’m getting ‘right plant, right spot’ and not giving too much, or too little sun.

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Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ can take full sun, so long as you keep it hydrated. This pot is finally growing into its potential!

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I fantasized about this combo of C. ‘Highlighter’ and C. ‘Chinook for better than a year; finally it is growing and looking great in the upper garden.  C “Highlighter” seems to be out of production, which is a disappointment.

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Caladium ‘Highlighter’ with C. ‘Chinook’

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A little strange for some tastes, but it has become one of my favorites.  I am forever grateful to the wonderful folks at Classic Caladiums for sending me a bag of beautiful C. ‘Highlighter’ with my order this year, even though it wasn’t a catalog listing.  I was happy to be able to plant a few and also share a few with friends.

C. ‘Chinook’ looks much better in person than in the catalog photos, in my opinion.  I’ve been happy with it and have mixed it with several other pink Caladiums in various pots.  It is a strong grower and generous in producing new leaves.

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A mystery Caladium on the left. We have several growing, and I’ve no idea its name. But I like it!   C. ‘Peppermint’ grows in the pot with it, on the right.

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There are lots of new and interesting Caladiums in our garden this year growing alongside old favorites.  I try to find time to get around the garden to check on their progress at some point each day.

And every day, they just keep getting better.

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C. Fannie Munson with Dryopteris x australis

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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A quick and easy wildlife gardening tip:

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Fill a shallow saucer with a bit of sand and some pea gravel, place it in your garden, and keep it moist through the summer. 
You’ve just created a place for butterflies, other insects, and small reptiles to find life-giving water on hot summer days.
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Sunday Dinner: Precisely

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“Philosophy [nature] is written
in that great book which ever is before our eyes –
– I mean the universe –
– but we cannot understand it
if we do not first learn the language
and grasp the symbols in which it is written.
The book is written in mathematical language,
and the symbols are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures,
without whose help it is impossible
to comprehend a single word of it;
without which one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth.”
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Galileo Galilei

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“Billions of years ago
there were just blobs of protoplasm;
now billions of years later
here we are.
So information has been created
and stored in our structure.
In the development of one person’s mind from childhood,
information is clearly not just accumulated
but also generated—created from connections
that were not there before”
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James Gleick

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“His way had therefore come full circle,
or rather had taken the form of an ellipse or a spiral,
following as ever no straight unbroken line,
for the rectilinear belongs only to Geometry
and not to Nature and Life.”
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Hermann Hesse

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“sacred knowledge of the cosmos
seems to be hidden within our souls
and is shown within our artwork and creative expressions.”
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Nikki Shiva

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“What if Loves are analogous to math?
First, arithmetic, then geometry and algebra,
then trig and quadratics…”
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J. Earp

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

All but the first photo are from the woodland walk at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.   The first photo is from our Forest Garden.

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“the pattern appears so ethereally,
that it is hard to remember that the shape is an attractor.
It is not just any trajectory of a dynamical system.
It is the trajectory toward which
all other trajectories converge.”
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James Gleick

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“The geometry of the things around us
creates coincidences, intersections.”
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Erri De Luca
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“If the human mind can understand the universe,
it means the human mind is fundamentally
of the same order as the divine mind.
If the human mind is of the same order as the divine mind,
then everything that appeared rational to God
as he constructed the universe,
it’s “geometry,” can also be made to appear rational
to the human understanding,
and so if we search and think hard enough,
we can find a rational explanation and underpinning for everything.
This is the fundamental proposition of science.”

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Robert Zubrin

Fabulous Friday: Colossal Caladiums

Caladium ‘Carolyn Whorton’

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Meet Carolyn.  Carolyn has apparently become a FOTF, because this is her third or fourth summer hanging out on our deck.  Properly introduced as Ms. Carolyn Whorton, she is reliably gorgeous and fun to be around from early May through at least November, when we let her have a bit of a rest until the following spring.

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It is simply fabulous to watch our favorite Caladiums awaken and throw out their astounding leaves for another season.  Yes, thanks to Don Patterson at Classic Caladiums, we have figured out a reliable system to save our Caladiums year to year.

Some might wonder whether an older bulb makes a bigger plant.  The answer is yes, and no.  According to the Caladium gurus,  an individual Caladium’s mature height, coloration and the size of its leaves are determined by its genetics.

Some varieties grow taller, others remain much lower growing.  The leaf shape and size is also a function of genetics.  But within that genetic potential, how you grow a Caladium also determines whether it grows to its maximum size, or not.

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C. “Carolyn Whorton” grew from a tuber we overwintered. This variety can grow exceptionally large leaves on 24″ stems. Here, in September 2017

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Of course good soil, steady moisture and a bit of organic fertilizer are good for growth.  But beyond that, shade loving Caladiums tend to grow larger in the shade, and remain more compact in bright light.   All of our saved bulbs began their re-awakening in large plastic tubs in our guest room.

I planted in early March, and they were sitting up on the bed, near a window and a lamp, by the third week of March.  And that is where they stayed…. perhaps a little too long…. because April here was too cold for them to go outside into the sunshine.

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The stem in the middle holds this Caladium’s first flower. Like other aroids, the Caladium flower isn’t showy. Leaving it can drain off energy from leaf production, so many of us simply remove them.

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And so they s..t..r..e..t..c..h..e..d…, trying to catch all they light they could, and also grew enormous leaves!  I remembered Carolyn from last summer, and so gave her her own pot and root room to grow early on in the transplanting process.  She has been out on the deck, in much better light, for most of May.

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Some of her companions were still camping out in their plastic bin until early this week.  But they all have a place to grow now either in a garden bed or in a pot.

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This bin of new Caladiums is ready to be planted out this week. The red leaf is C. ‘Burning Heart,’ a 2015 introduction from Classic Caladiums.  The white is C. ‘Florida Moonlight.’

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Not so for all of our newly purchased Caladium tubers.  I planted most of them into bins, but potted up a few into individual peat pots when they arrived from Florida in late March.  I potted up a few individually for a friend, and decided to experiment with this alternative way to get a jump on the season with about a dozen or so of our new bulbs, too.

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The results are clear:  our Caladiums in the bins are doing much better than those in individual pots.  I can think of at least three reasons why this is the case.

First, it is easier to maintain an even moisture content in the soil for the bulbs in bins.  I line the bin in paper toweling before adding soil, and that layer of paper wicks the moisture evenly throughout the bin.  The peat pots get a little dry, then when I water a little too moist, and back and forth as I remember to check on them, or not.

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More of our new Caladiums are in process… the material on the soil is rice hulls, the packing material that comes with the bulbs.

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The potted Caladiums also don’t have the advantage of soil mass to keep them warm.  Their temperatures vary, and maybe get a little cool, much more often than those growing in the bins.

And finally, I amended the potting soil used in the bins with a bit of Espoma Bulb tone before planting the Caladiums.  The pots have straight up potting soil.

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C. ‘Highlighter’ and C. ‘Chinook’ were among the first of our new Caladiums ready to plant out this spring.

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Now, it is clear to me, watching the new bulbs leaf out, that each variety takes its own time to come into leaf.  Caladiums planted the same day, into the same soil, and receiving identical treatment, take very different numbers of days to show their first leaf.

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That is a little frustrating to me, as some of our Caladiums purchased this season haven’t even shown themselves, yet.  The first ones in leaf have gotten the choice locations around the garden, and I’ll have to figure out what to do with the latecomers, when they finally grow.

And my good friend who trusted me to start her Caladiums for her is still waiting to fill her pots.  At least half of her bulbs have poked a tip above the soil to show me they are alive…

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But back to the question of bigger bulbs and bigger plants.  I planted Caladium bulbs this year the size of a potato, and I planted bulbs the size of a grape.

The main difference in the size plant they produce will be seen in how many leaves each can produce at a time.

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C. ‘Florida Sweetheart’ at Halloween, just before I brought her in for the winter.

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But as you can see, ‘Carolyn’ has only two leaves.  Why doesn’t a grand dame like herself have at least a half dozen?

The answer lies in the idea of ‘dominance.’  The first eye to develop is the dominant bud.  It can chemically signal ‘wait’ to the other buds.

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Caladium tubers ready for spring planting, with some buds already showing growth.  Remove the dominant bud, and a greater number of buds begin to grow.

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Had I performed a big of surgery on the dominant ‘eye’ before planting the Caladium tuber, I could have stimulated more eyes to produce leaves right off the bat.  Maybe one year I’ll get around to playing with that….

But in this moment, we are happily enjoying the start of Caladium season.  It has been a slow grow this spring, but I am steadily putting a few more plants out into our garden each week.

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Finally, a Caladium has replaced the fading Violas with this Japanese Painted fern.

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As our Caladiums, Colocasias, Alocasias and Zantedeschias leaf out and bulk up, our garden looks a little more tropical with each passing day.  I am still learning about the magic ‘alarm clock’ combination of warmth, light and moisture that helps each genus break dormancy and awaken to a new season of growth.

But awakening they are, on their own schedules, and to our great delight.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious.  Let’s infect one another!

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Pot Shots: First Caladiums

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We are just beginning to have weather warm enough for the Caladiums to come outside and get some sun!  The ones basking in the warmth of our spare room have grown long and leggy, reaching for the light.  And so I’ve brought the other tubs and bins outside to our deck, up against the house and under cover of the eaves where they have enjoyed the warmth of our late spring and gotten a lot more light.

I’ve kept my eye on the new ones with their first leaves beginning to unfurl.  The first to open is C. ‘Burning Heart,‘ a 2015 introduction from Classic Caladiums This is one of the new hybrids from Dr. Robert Hartman that can take full sun.  It is a new color for Caladiums, and I am looking forward to growing it this summer.

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Once I found that I had four of this special variety in leaf, I lifted them this morning from their bin, and brought them into the garden to the pot I have planned for them.

Already growing are two Zantedeschia ‘White Giant’.  These Zantedeschia want consistently moist soil and full sun.  This area of the garden has a high canopy of oaks, but gets a fair amount of sun during the day.  I think that it will be enough sun for them, and not too much for the Caladiums to both do very well.

Completing the pot is one of my favorite ‘spillers,’ Dichondra ‘Silver Falls.’  This silvery gray vine will spill over the sides of the pot, eventually filling in to form a nearly continuous curtain of fine foliage gradually enveloping the pot and its pedestal.  If you buy a pot of Dichondra, you will notice lots of little vines all massed together in the nursery pot.  These pull apart very easily.

A single 3″-4″ pot from the garden center could easily give you a half dozen clumps, each with its own roots.  This vine roots easily from each leaf node and may be divided again and again as you spread it around.  Although a perennial, it will only overwinter here in a very mild winter.

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When we found this huge pot in February, on deep discount at one of our favorite nurseries, I hesitated over its color.  I favor blue pots.

This screaming chartreuse, in February no less, was almost too much.  It sat upside down in our nursery for several weeks while I contemplated what to do with it.  A gardening friend came by and admired it enough that she took straight off to go buy the last one like it!

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Once we actually moved it up into the garden a few weeks ago, we soon realized that the green blends right in and doesn’t look brash at all…. at least not until we added the red Caladiums today!

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I am working this week to plant out as many of our Caladiums, Colocasias and Alocasias as I can.  This is slow going, but will reward us with beautiful foliage plants in the garden over the next six to seven months .

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This is Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ planted into an established planting of Saxifraga stolonifera.  Although just an old nursery pot, it is large enough to support the Colocasia as it grows to its 4′-5′ potential.  This Colocasia likes moist soil and shade.

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We’re bringing the pots out gradually, and re-working the pots which held other plants through the winter to accept their summer tenants.   Now that the weather has settled, I want to get the plants we saved last fall out of storage as quickly as we can, so they can all begin a new season of growth.

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ is finally back outside in its blue pot. It overwintered in the garage. The soil is just warm enough to plant out these white Caladiums today. No more cold snaps, please!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

Reliable Beauty: Ferns

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Once the first few fronds of our hardy ferns poke through the warming soil, and begin to unfurl themselves, I finally trust the change of season to spring.  Tight fiddleheads are appearing in pots and beds, under shrubs, and along the bank, and we always celebrate their appearance.

Emerging fronds show up so subtly; one might not even notice them at first.

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Japanese painted fern emerges deep red, and lightens to show some green with silver markings as the season progresses.

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Especially those coming along under larger plants, or in secluded corners of the garden, may escape my notice until I go in search of them.  But like a child hunting Easter eggs, I make my rounds of the garden in search of my favorite ferns, re-emerging after their winter’s rest.

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Christmas ferns emerge among Hellebores in our back garden.

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Some hardy ferns remain evergreen.  The Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides; holly fern, Cyrtomium falcatum; and our Autumn Brilliance fern, Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’,  maintain a presence through the winter.  They are growing a bit raggedy by April and I sometimes cut off their old fronds as they break or fall.  But you never lose track of them.

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D. ‘Brilliance’ emerges a beautiful copper, but its fronds eventually fade to medium green.

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While D. ‘Brilliance’ is a hybrid, the Christmas fern is one of our most common native ferns.  D. ‘Brilliance’ can be found easily in most garden centers each spring.  It can be a little harder to locate starts of the Christmas fern, however.  This spring I found them, bare root, at a big-box store and stocked up.  I have about a dozen of them started in little pots, ready to plant out when I find a spare hour for planting.

Holly fern is also easy to find at garden centers and big box stores either bare root in late winter, or already growing in a pot in the spring.

These are all clumping ferns.  While they will grow a bit wider and taller over the years, they won’t go wandering through your garden without your assistance.

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D. ‘Brilliance’ in June

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Like other perennials, ferns have their own sequence for when they first appear each spring.  One of the earliest ferns to emerge is the beautiful hybrid Athyrium niponicum, ‘Pictum.’ 

Known as the Japanese painted fern, there are now several beautiful hybrids with various color patterns and with beautifully curled and divided fronds.  These are such a dark shade of burgundy as they emerge, you might not even notice their fiddleheads at first.

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I keep a clump growing in a low trough by the kitchen door, and watch it daily each spring, waiting for the first signs of life.  These fronds have often fallen away by early spring, and unless you remember where they are planted, they will surprise you as they unfold.

The Athyriums, known as ‘lady ferns,’ may spread year by year.  They have good manners, however.  Chances are you will divide them before they move beyond where you want them to grow.  I particularly enjoy the hybrid A. ‘Ghost,’ which is a lovely silver grey.

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There are many beautiful ferns that grow well in coastal Virginia.  We have an interesting selection of native ferns here, and we grow several of them.  Maidenhair fern, royal fern, cinnamon fern and sensitive fern are a few easily grown natives.

But we also collect several imported ferns, hybrids and cultivars, as well.  Can one grow too many ferns?

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Although ferns generally appreciate at least partial shade and consistently moist soil, they are much tougher than they appear.  Once established, many varieties can stand up to some sun and survive, with mulch and a little supplemental water, during drought.

Do your homework before you plant, however, and keep in mind the gardener’s mantra, “Right plant, right place.”

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It is easy to grow most ferns, if only you site them to meet their needs.  Given good soil, a bit of shade, and sufficient moisture, they happily grow on year after year.  In fact, if they are sited in their ‘happy place,’ you will see new ferns crop up nearby from either spore or spreading.

If a fern seems to be struggling, then simply dig it up and move it.  Often, a fern will go into dormancy during summer’s heat in order to survive if it is getting too dry or too much sun.

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September 2017

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I tend to buy the smallest pots of ferns that I can find.  In  our wooded garden, with so many roots everywhere, I like to start ferns small and let them grow and find their own way among the already established plant community.  This nearly always works. 

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It is also kind to build a raised bed for your fern installation, as long as you keep it hydrated.  I also grow some in pots, and keep them going year to year.

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Hardy ferns can stay outside in their pots all winter.  I bring the tender ferns in to the house each fall and set them out again when the weather has settled in spring.

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Emerging holly fern in early March.

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Ferns are beautiful just by themselves, and I am cultivating a collection of them on a steep bank in the shade in our back garden.  But they also add a graceful note when grow with bulbs and perennials or under shrubs.  Medium sized ferns are a good ‘shoes and socks’ ground cover in the front of a shrub border and under trees.

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Ferns lend a peacefulness and serenity to the garden.  These easy plants hold the soil against erosion, require minimal fuss or maintenance, and have a long season of beauty.  Deer and rabbits rarely touch them.

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They make me happy, and I keep planting more with each passing year.

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Athyrium ‘Branford Beauty’

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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An Infinite Variety of Ferns

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Mosses and ferns populated the Earth long before any flower bloomed or fish swam through the vast oceans of our earliest years.  Soothing green mosses still fascinate and entertain many of us obsessive gardeners.

I lift mine from spots where they grow in our garden, and also do my bit to help them spread a bit more each year.  Non-vascular, they have no roots, true stems or true leaves.  Moisture simply seeps from cell to cell as they welcome the rain.

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Ferns rose up from the moist and mossy surface of the Earth as the first plants to develop true roots, stems and leaves.  Tiny tubes that carry water from root to leaf allowed these novel plants to reach ever higher to catch the sunlight.

From that humble beginning, eons ago, ferns have carried on their simple lives and developed into countless different shapes, forms and sizes.

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These ancient plants still reproduce themselves with spores, as the mosses do.  Never will you find a flower or seed from a fern.

Their spores must fall and grow on the moist Earth before first forming a gametophyte, which most of us never even notice.  Eventually that simple structure will grow into a new fern.  Their ways of reproducing are mysterious and hidden from the casual observer.

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The small dots that grow on the back of some mature fern leaves hold the spores.  They will be released as a fine powder when the spores are ripe.  Blown on the wind, some eventually some will settle where they can grow. This frond is the evergreen hardy fern Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ .

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Although ferns often look delicate and fragile, they are tougher than you might expect.  So long as their basic needs are met, they thrive.  They don’t need as much light as flowering plants, and so often grow under the canopy of trees, in dense and shady places.

Like mosses, they enjoy humidity and regular rain.  Some ferns begin to get a little brown ‘burned’ edge on their leaves if the air grows too dry.

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The Victorians collected interesting ferns from around the world.  They traveled far and wide to discover new species of ferns, often in the tropics.  They developed the glass house, fern cabinet, and terrarium as ways to keep their ferns warm and humid on board ship and through cold British winters.

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Gardeners today have uncounted choices of interesting ferns to grow.  We have a wide array of species ferns, plus many, many cultivars.  Hardy ferns grow on every continent.

Our garden features many varieties of hardy evergreen and deciduous ferns.  Some, like our Christmas ferns and favorite Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Autumn Brilliance,’ remain green through the winter.  Others, like our many Japanese painted ferns, drop their leaves as days grow shorter in autumn, and remain dormant until early spring.

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Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ remains green and beautiful year round.  Its new fronds emerge a beautiful shade of bronze.

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We also enjoy many ferns that aren’t hardy in our climate.  These must come indoors before frost, but will return to the garden in late April.

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I have been fascinated by ferns for many, many years now.  When I see a new one we don’t yet grow, I want it.

I won’t even try to explain; I’m too busy watering and potting up fern babies to grow on into good sized plants by late spring.

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When most of us think of fern fronds, we think of long fronds clothed on both sides of their stipe with small, fringed leaves known as pinna.  Sometimes these are very finely divided into tinier and tinier parts.  We watch for their unfurling fiddleheads in spring, and see them in our imagination waving in the breeze as they carpet a forest glade.

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But ferns take other forms, too.  While some are lacy, others grow like broad tongues of green, or even like the long branched horns of a deer.  Usually ferns send up leaves from a stem most often found at, or just below, the ground.

But some even grow tall, like trees, where each year new fronds grow from the uppermost crown, leaving a scaly brown ‘stem’ trunk beneath.

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The long hairy stem of a ‘footed fern’ creeps along the ground in nature.  On this one, tongue-like leaves appear at intervals along its length.

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The different forms, colors, and growth habits of these beautiful plants intrigue me.  I love to watch them grow, and I enjoy trying to grow them in different ways.

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It isn’t always easy to find a good source for ferns.  Some mail-order nurseries will charge huge amounts of money for a fairly simple fern.  Go to your local big-box store, and you may find only a couple of common varieties.

I always drool over the Plant Delights catalog, because they carry such a wide selection of different ferns, and offer ferns you won’t find anywhere else.  They travel the world to collect new species and varieties of beautiful ferns, and also carry new cultivars from breeders.

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Maidenhair fern growing in our fern garden last May.

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Most of their ferns are hardy in our Zone 7 climate.  If we can keep them hydrated through the hottest part of summer, they will perform for many years to come.

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Athyrium niponicum pictum ‘Apple Court’

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Yet, winter is a special time when I enjoy small potted ferns indoors.  And I’ve found an excellent source for ferns at The Great Big Greenhouse in the Richmond area.  They carry the widest selection of both hardy and tender ferns that I’ve found anywhere in our region.

It will be a few weeks yet before their spring shipment of hardy ferns arrives, but no matter.  Right now, they have a gargantuan selection of tropical ferns to tempt the most winter weary gardener.  They come in all sizes from tiny to huge, too.  February is a very special month at this favorite gardening haunt, because they have several events planned for gardeners devoted to growing plants indoors.

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I always explore their collection of tropical plants for terrariums and fairy gardens, which come in 1″ pots.  I have found so many wonderful ferns, like the fern growing on my windowsill in the photo above.  I bought this in a 1″ pot in the spring of 2016 and grew it outdoors on the porch that summer.  It came indoors that fall, and has grown in our windowsill ever since.

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Those tiny ferns in 1″ pots very quickly grow up into full size beauties that will fill a pot or basket.

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After spending the remaining winter months inside, I quickly move them out into larger containers as the weather allows.  This is an easy and economical way to have ferns ready for summer hanging baskets and pots.

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Ferns offer endless variations on a simple theme.  Elegant and easy to grow, we find something new and beautiful to do with ferns in each season of the year.

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Fiddlehead of Brilliance autumn fern in April

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Variations on a Theme

The Arum Affair

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My new-found friends at the Native Plant Society might not approve, but I’m still falling in love with this beautiful Italian Arum.   After six days under the snow, with temperatures falling near zero at night, it still looks this fresh and crisp as the snow melts around it!

Arum leaves hold their vibrant green throughout the winter, as though unaffected by the ice and freezing cold.  The beautiful geometric patterns traced on their leaves in softest cream remain elegant from autumn through to early summer.  They remind me a little of a cold hardy Alocasia.

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Arum growing with our daffodils last February

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Native to Southern Europe and North Africa, Arum originated in a much warmer climate.  But it has a superpower: Arum italicum is thermogenic, capable of producing heat from its leaves and from its unusual flower.  The mitochondria in each cell produce excess heat, which gives the plant some protection from the cold.

A member of the Araceae family, it also has calcium oxalate crystals in its leaves.  These crystals are very irritating to skin and soft tissue… like the tender mouths of hungry deer.   All parts of the Arum are poisonous, including the corm from which it grows; which is the other reason I love these beautiful foliage plants.

Deer, squirrels, voles and rabbits won’t touch them.

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Columbine emerges through a winter ground cover of Arum italicum last March.

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These are a useful ground cover species in our woodland garden.  They grow best in shade and though drought tolerant, grow more prolifically in moist and fertile soil.

While I am thrilled to see these beautiful plants spread through our garden by seed and division, their prolific growth and nearly indestructible nature make them problematic in other regions of the United States.  Areas like the Pacific Northwest consider them invasive and ask home gardeners not to plant them.

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But Arum remain my cold-weather guilty pleasure.  I ordered over 200 of them this fall from Brent and Becky Heath, sharing a little more than half with my gardening friends.

I’ve planted them in beds and pots, beneath shrubs and amongst spring bulbs.  Interplant them with Hosta to keep a beautiful foliage presence in your Hosta beds year round.  Pair them with either hardy or deciduous ferns for delicious spring time associations.

I use them in parts of the garden where we grow Caladiums in the summer.  As we lift the Caladiums in fall, the Arum emerge from their summer dormant period.  Arum die back in early summer as the Caladiums fill in.

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Exotic as they may be, Arum still fill a niche in a North American woodland garden.  They hold and protect the ground against erosion.  They produce both nectar and pollen for pollinators each spring.  Birds eat their seeds in mid-summer.  And, their beautiful leaves make this gardener very happy. 

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Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens in Gloucester, VA,  feature many blooming shrubs, including this lovely Camellia. The Heath’s call Arum italicum a ‘shoes and socks’ plant because it works so well as a ground cover beneath shrubs.

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I’m still wavering up and down the native plant/exotic imported plant continuum.  I’m hanging out more these days with the native plant enthusiasts and reading the literature.  I understand the nativist point of view, and yet I still believe that there is space in our garden for a population of exotic ‘come here’ plants, too.

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How would I garden without our Camellias and Rhododendrons, Alocasias, Narcissus, Caladiums and Mediterranean herbs?

Basically, if it will grow here and not end up as breakfast for a deer, I’m willing to entertain most any plant for at least a season or two.  And when it makes me happy, I just might explore a more lasting relationship.  Which perhaps explains the Arum affair….

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Arum italicum blooming in our garden last April

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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