Snakes in the garden

Arisema with Viper's Bugloss
Whipcord cobra lilies (Arisaema tortuosum) and viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare )

I am beginning to think that my role as a gardener is limited to trying to maintain some semblance of order within the garden. I now know how Hercules felt when standing in front of the Augean stables with a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow!

This “summer” has been more contrary than usual, some plants have refused to grow whilst others have been turned into rapacious triffids. Carefully sown seeds and nurtured young plants have either sulked before going into a slow terminal decline or been skeletonised by an army of molluscs and caterpillars. Venturing into the croft garden without a machete is foolhardy even for the experienced gardener and not a place for apprentices. Linger too long and you will be cocooned in chickweed or buried by the advancing front of mint and borage. The Head Gardner was reported “missing in action” in the rhubarb patch for a whole afternoon.

The garden has always been a place for the curious and there are always new discoveries to make and wildlife to encounter. If you believe in magic or better still “fairies” there are wonders to behold.

Even in the cool north-west, you can encounter exotic wildlife lurking in the undergrowth. There has been no shortage of woolly bears waiting to turn into garden tigers. Fortunately their rarity and beauty saves them from the fate of any leopards (Limax maximus – leopard slug) found slinking in the undergrowth. They may be vegetarian, but as alien invaders with nasty habits they are undesirable visitors.

The arisaemas (cobra lilies) always take me by surprise when they appear, their presence is always advertised by their very distinctive aroma. This is not to everyone’s liking, but as they are pollinated by flies the rather “gamey” small is perfectly apt.

Arisaemas are probably more of an acquired taste than the other aroids but I admire their elegant forms and I am fascinated by the variety of leaf forms and spathes. They are perfect for a woodland garden, so I’m not sure why they manage to survive in my seaside garden. A. tortuosum is probably one of the easiest to grow and produces enough offsets to risk a garden trial. I grow other species in pots, but at some stage I’ll try some more in the garden. Many species are hardy, but they are susceptible to wet winters when the corms disintegrate into a slimy morass.

The synchronicity of the cobras with the vipers is pure serendipity as the bugloss is a biennial which self-seeds around the garden. This is the wild form, I also grow a cultivar which is very floriferous, but lacks the elegant stature of the native species.

Vipers bugloss cultivar
Viper’s Bugloss Blue Bedder
Arisaema tortuosum

9 thoughts on “Snakes in the garden

  1. I keep meaning to try arisaemas, having an abundance of woodland and a penchant for the unusual. We do have wet winters though. Growing them in pots to bulk them up sounds a good solution.

    • I suspect that provided you get the drainage round the corm right they will do ok and some are very easy and will self-seed if they like you. I’ve grown all mine from seed and usually after a couple of year normally have enough for a garden trial. The unpleaant odour is usually just a whiff on the breeze, unless you get up close, and doesn’t last too long.

  2. I hope you are taking appropriate precautions when you venture out in that case – compass, provisions, warm clothing, etc, and give each other a clear idea of proposed direction. Have you found any lost visitors lurking in the undergrowth yet? Love the echium, not quite so enamoured with the arisemas… 😉

    • Like Theseus I always take a ball if string when entering certain parts of the garden. I am a vert careful host and we count all our visitors leaving and arriving at the end of each week and do the standard H&S briefing, complete with life-jacket drill.
      Echiums are definitely your sort of flower – the cultivar is available in pink and white and will self seed with abundance.

      • Better than a trail of breadcrumbs…

  3. I love the weirdness of Ariseamas. I am enjoying A. Consanguineum at the moment. It does well and spreads. I always think they look as if they are rudely sticking their tongues out at you.

    • I knew you would be a fan of these weird and wonderful plants. I’m just about to go and photograph A. fargesii which has flowered for the first time!

  4. Great pictures of your ‘snake’ plants: I never thought I’d find myself liking a post called ‘Snakes in the Garden’! I hope you are planning a tasty crumble or two, thanks to your Head Gardener’s efforts!

    • I’m quite fond of word associations and the dread pun, so my posts are sometimes not quite what they appear!
      We’ve been fighting the ever expanding waitline syndrome, some in geater need than others, so crumbles have been temporarily replaced by fruit compotes! Howver, I’m sure they’ll be back on the breakfast menu soon.

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