Plant of the week
Arum italicum (Italian Lords and Ladies)
Why you should plant it
A glorious plant for light shade, Arum italicum has a long, red fruit stalk bearing extraordinary berries at this time of year. For those of us who are plagued by squirrels, the plant is a boon because it's toxic and therefore critter-proof. What is most striking, though, is the winter foliage. I know people who gauge their morning runs by the condition of its leaves: perky leaves means plus-5 C; droopy leaves and it's less than 5 C outside.
Where to plant it
Locate it in a semi-shady spot, a woodland border or near a shrub or tree, where it will spruce up any dull area with its shiny veined leaves. As it needs moist soil, it is definitely not the plant for a xeriscape garden. Requiring lots of rich organic matter (compost, manure, mulch), it can grow from 30 to 45 centimetres high with about as much spread. But in warm areas (Zone 7 and warmer), it might be invasive, so plant it from Zone 5 to 6 in sheltered areas.
What it offer
Big attraction: shiny, veined leaves that will stay upright until the plant goes into its summer dormancy, when you think some animal has fallen on the plant, but then you realize it's just putting all its energy into the stalk, causing its leaves to fade. When the stalk subsequently appears as if by magic, it's green at first, then turns a brilliant red. To be sure, it's strange-looking, but it's an endlessly fascinating, very tailored and very handsome plant. The flowers look a bit like jack-in-the-pulpit.
Source and cost
Get five for $4.95 through www.gardenimport.com; the Garden Import catalogue costs $5.
Visit www.marjorieharris.com for more plant and gardening information.