Snakes in the garden

Whipcord cobra lilies (Arisaema tortuosum) and viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare )

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 trifids. Carefully sown seeds and nurtured young plants have either sulked before going into a slow terminal decline or been skeltonised 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 arisemas (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. Arisemas 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.

Viper's Bugloss "Blue Bedder" (Echium vulgare)

Viper’s Bugloss “Blue Bedder” (Echium vulgare)


Arisaema tortuosum