Different doesn't have to mean difficult

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Do you like unusual plants in your garden? I do. But for me, “unusual” can’t equal “difficult” or “picky.” I want plants that don’t demand too much from me and yet add a note of distinction to the garden.

One plant that does this is Arum italicum ‘Pictum.’ (I realize that’s a mouthful. If you prefer, try the delightful common name Lords and Ladies.) It’s so easy to grow that it is often a pass-along plant (one that a gardener digs from his garden and gives to another person).

The leaves will remind you of the silver and green forms of caldiums. But this plant is a perennial – you plant it once and it returns year after year (increasing the size of the clump each year).

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This is a plant that’s interesting all four seasons of the year – but in ways that other plants aren’t. Its leaves pop up in mid to late fall, when other plants are going dormant. Then, in late spring, a creamy spathe appears. (It looks like those on the popular houseplant known as peace lily.)

That fades fairly soon, and the leaves wither afterward -- but over the summer, a stalk of bright red-orange berries ripens. (They really stand out against a background of ferns.) Then, in autumn, leaves reappear and the cycle starts again

The plant needs partial shade, including some sun in spring and summer. (In cool-summer climates, full sun is a possibility.) Soil should be moist but not wet.

For those of you in cold climates, the bad news is that Arum italicum ‘Pictum’ is a plant that does best in Zone 6 and warmer.

If you don’t have a friend who’s growing this delightful plant and can give you some, you may have to hunt for it. Because of its unusual growth habit, you won’t find it among the bedding plants at your local nursery in spring.

Bulb catalogs often include it, though, and so do some mail-order nurseries that sell perennials. (Be sure the ‘Pictum’ part of the name is there; plain Arum italicum is a different plant.)

But if you want something different in your garden – but not difficult to grow – this one is worth looking for.

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