You look out of the window and see the sunshine gleaming on the bare bones of branches against an infinite sky. The light coruscates upon the dew drenched grass and you think “the weeds are getting cheeky, there’s some hairy bittercress that has my name on”. You tool up and step out into the January garden and realise that you’ve been had. It’s damned chilly, right parky, brass monkey weather.
Arum italicum “Marmoratum” (Italian arum)
The bulbs know no better and are beginning to shoot leaves into the crisp air. Helleborus (Lenten roses) are doing their best, bless them but otherwise, most plants are staying well covered. The Aroids (Arum family) are a welcome exception. The most noticeable greenery is currently Arum italicum “Marmoratum” whose striking leaves have braved the worst that winter can throw at them. The plant is quietly spreading itself along a north facing border in the company of ferns and Heucheras, for a splendid seasonal show. I grow the wild cousin Arum maculatum in a particularly dank, shady patch, for the spires of toxic orange autumn berries which give it one of its designations, lords and ladies. Many of the common names are gender related, including cuckoo pint, from Old English pintel, meaning a protrusion or penis. All flowers of the genus have a characteristic spadix which rises in a decidedly phallic manner. If this is going to give you the willies, look away now.
Iris reticulata “Alida” (blooming even before the snowdrops)
David Attenborough makes me hot under the collar. When he truffled through the tropical forests of Sumatra, to embrace the delights of Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum), I came over quite peculiar. I cherish A. konjac (voodoo lily) in the conservatory; although the summer foliage is exotic and profuse, I have yet to achieve a flower. Given the close confines of the glass house, this may be a blessing. Dave’s biggest bloom in the world had an outrageous odour that made his eyes water. My Arum dracunculus (dragon’s arum), grown outdoors, has a spring time burgundy spathe, a prominent knob and a disgusting reek, for attracting pollinating flies. The smell is so bad that grown men cry, women faint and children play elsewhere. I’m grateful that in my thin soil, it’s a poor performer.
Ophiopogon planiscapus “Nigrescens” (black mondo grass)
Glorious Zantedeschia aethiopica (arum lily) is unperfumed and works well in a warm bed at the height of the season, better in the pond. It is propagated without difficulty from generously produced seeds, or by splitting mature clumps. Several sexy Arisaema (cobra lily) are hardy tuberous perennials which produce mysterious hooded blooms that develop from easily recognisable odd leaves. Protected from frost, the callas are so ravishing that they are worth a little trouble; in Greek, the name means the most beautiful. Despite this transparent attempt to titillate my enthusiasm and stimulate some internal heat, my nose and toes are still frigid. I’m retiring to a cosy crackling fireside and may even keep my coat on.