14 Jan 2015

The House of Slytherin: Arisaema in the Garden!

It is without a doubt the genus that will forever be intrinsically tied to my late Grandmother, and as such, is most easily traceable back to my first concepts of gardening. It started with Arisaema triphyllum, the species that we in North America like to call our own, with its populations endemic to our forests. A harbinger of mid Spring, it is was the very first plant that I learned to identify during the childhood walks with my Grandparents in what we conspiratorially referred to as 'the Darkling Woods,' of Sombra Township. My Grandfather took the 'jack-in-the-pulpit,' common name one step further and convinced me that it was Satan himself that could be seen peeking out of its serpentine like 'flower!' Fora child with a wild imagination and the attention span of a gnat, it proved magic insomuch as I could usually be spotted down on all fours, cautiously peering into the spathe of this most intriguing plant. That was forty five years ago, and to this day, Arisaema continues to hold me firmly within its hypnotic grip. I grow A.triphyllum as a talisman of those long ago days, and have discovered that by providing it with the ideal growing conditions - partial shade, and an abundance of loamy, humus and compost enriched soil, it can grow to an astounding size! Two years ago it must have stood close to 1m in height, with a trifoliate leaf spread that rivalled the width between thumb and baby finger. Its another of those sentimental plants that bring's the true essence of my Grandparents close. 

Once I had established my gardens at my current property, with their propensity towards shaded woodland, I set about learning about and discovering new members of this most serpentine genus. I bought myself a monograph dedicated to the genus Arisaema and spent hours poring over the photographs and descriptions of plants that literally made me swoon. The next challenge would be to find suppliers of these somewhat sinister beauties. A visit to Canada Blooms some six or seven years ago presented me with a clutch of Arlsaema candidissimum bulbs, each the size of a closed fist. They immediately went into the garden where they have since provided with with a stunning early Summer display of delicate pink, white and green striped spathes set below a shiny green trifoliate leaf. In recent years I purchased even more, starting them in my room during the waning days of February. I have a fondness for this one, which I have dubbed the 'Prince Charming,' among the genus. 

Foliage plays a large part of any shaded garden, and Arisaema is a wonderful genus for those who wish to experiment with texture, shape and colouration where foliage is concerned. One of my favourite foliage displays is the magnificent starburst configuration of Arisaema ciliatum var. liubaense shown below. It rises close to 1m every season and provides a staggering contrasting composition to what is the shadiest area here at Teza's Garden. His spathe [photograph number two in this post] is one of the most intriguing that I grow and the combination of spathe and flower always stop visitors in their tracks!

The three photos immediately preceding this were also part of my 'lets grow some indoors' experiment of four years ago. One of the most sought after species is Arisaema sikokianum, a Chinese species whose pristine white spadix more closely resembles a golf ball that the whip like tongue of many of its cousins within the genus. It is definitely an oddity, but sadly one that I am not overly fond of. Temperamental [at least here in Z5] at best, it is also notoriously reluctant to bulk up, and there is something that is slightly 'too ornamental' for my taste. I much prefer the more sinisterly serpentine species! Odd duck out, as always! While Pinellia does not belong to the genus, its complimentary, almost copy cat appearance makes a wonderful foil in a bed full of vipers! Nor does the truly sinister Dracunculus fall into the same genus, but when you're going for truly sinister beauty, nothing but nothing comes even close! Stinky like rotten meat when the spathe first opens, but enough to bring traffic to a stand still! Guaranteed! The remaining pictures include A.thunbergii var. Urashima and A.kiusianum, a diminutive species that to me more resembles an owl than it does a serpent. Both are delightfully happy, transplanted into the garden when the threat of frost was nil.

The shaded space between mine and the neighbouring house presents the perfect growing space for this alluring genus. It remains protected from strong winds, and with a soil composition that I have spent years perfecting, even in the absence of actual trees, it is like a miniature woodland. Arisaema ciliatum var. liubaense was the first of the Asian species that I toyed with, and six years later I am rewarded with a massive clutch of serpents every year. I cannot express the joy that their arrival elicits in me every year! The instantly recognizable starburst formation of its foliage is all I need to see for my heart to instantly soar!

Two of my personal favourites reside in a narrow border against the north west side of the garage. When I discovered that there was a deep purple near black sport of our native A.triphyllum, and that it was available from LH [my number one woodland plant source] I made haste in order to acquire one of my own! With it I also purchased A.consanguineum 'Perfect Wave' whose moniker still does not do justice to its stunning blue grey starburst inspired foliage, each leaflet of which is also streaked with an amazing pewter inlay! Trust me on that! [You will soon see what I mean!]

Ummm, yeah! The 'Perfect Wave' is indeed just that. An undulating formation of rippled leaflets, each one possessing a remarkable inlay of pewter, and each one culmination in a whip like point! Its rather plain spathe is completely overpowered by this jaw dropping display. It has bulked considerably in the three years that it has been planted, growing taller and more regal [if such a thing is possible] with each passing year!

I have wanted to try Arisaema griffithii ever since I spotted it in a picture taken at a west coast nursery. Of all of the members of this beguiling genus, this one holds the most allure for me. It looks like a living serpent, almost Cobra like with its mottled, flared spathe, and tongue like spadix. When I innocently mentioned that I was growing a serpent in my room, I was met with looks of disgust and horror!  Please. Let me rephrase that! Or not! He is tender hearted, and as such is dug up and brought inside and placed in a mix of peat and compost for the winter where he will not freeze or become water logged. 

Its a fascinating world, and one that I encourage any hoarder/collector who has a penchant for the decidedly shadier side of gardening to consider. I will leave you with a series of some of my favourite serpentine moments that have occurred in my own garden over the past seven years! If you have any questions, please leave me a comment. Cheers! House Slytherin unite!

I was successful in transplanting one of my Fenbruary experiments into the garden where he seems quite content. This is A.thunbergii var. Urashima.


Barbarapc said...

Barry - zoweeeee! What a great post. Absolutely adore Urashima - what a great form and colour. When anyone says they don't have enough space to garden you must present them with your card & blog link - it's not the space that's important, it's the imagination. And you have it in spathes! (Couldn't help myself.....)
Best wishes for a wonderful 2015. Barbarapc

CanadianGardenJoy said...

I'm with Barb on this post sweetie .. zoweeeeee ! LOL ... if a reader was not into these plants before they read this post , they damn sure should be afterwards ! haha
the 6th picture down from the top .. which is that ? I love it .. then the pinkish ones in a colony .. but the dark one really has my attention, such a great foil .. and look at the size of some of that foliage? Holy crap! .. they must get thirsty during the season too.
I still do not have any .. BIG sigh!
Great post with wonderful information!
Joy : )

Barry said...

Thanks so much for the kind comments. There is a method to my madness.... I want more gardeners to consider adding these serpentine beauties when creating a woodland/shaded garden. Joy the sixth photo is A.thinbergii var Urashima - the same one that Barbara speaks of in her comment. He is one of my faves as well and has been bulking up with each passing season. The last photo in the post is the same plant in its third season here at Teza's Garden! I am currently trying to coax A.griffithii to rebloom for me. So yes, trying once again to grow me a serpent in my bedroom! LOL!!