Arum italicum ‘Pictum’

This beautiful and interesting herbaceous foliage plant turns the normal seasons of the year upside down. The exciting leaves start to unfold in autumn, and grow larger all through winter and spring, reaching as much as a foot in length. They are shaped like an arrowhead, dark green heavily marbled with very pale green, and waved at the edges. The pale green flowers, will remain shady but you can make it less dry, and unless you are trying to make a garden between two skyscrapers, there should be enough light for the plants to thrive.

The dry shade of trees and shrubs is a different matter. Heavy evergreens are difficult to underplant, especially conifers, but deciduous trees and shrubs give better prospects. Again, you can improve the conditions. You may be able to trim tree or shrub branches to let in more light, as already suggested in a previous introductory section, and of the conifers, the Scots pine can be a hospitable shade-giver if the lower branches are stripped. Also, you can put in your plants with lots of organic matter to give them a good start. But the most important thing is to choose well, and never to force a plant against its nature. Some of the plants I suggest positively like dry shade, others would be more luxuriant with more moisture, but all have a good chance of succeeding in an awkward corner, or on a dry bank, or under the dreaded sycamore in a town garden on which some bureaucratic clown has slapped a Preservation Order.

Which are short and inconspicuous, consist of a spike cloaked in a spathe (a large, enfolding bract) like those of the wild arum, lords and ladies, of the hedgerows. By mid-summer, flowers and leaves have disappeared underground, but in early autumn, spikes of bright red, poisonous berries shoot up like danger signals before the leaf cycle starts afresh.

Arum italicum is hardy in all but the coldest gardens, and will grow in quite deep shade under trees. It prefers a moist place with natural leafmould, but will tolerate dry shade if planted with plenty of moisture-holding compost and peat. The tubers should be planted in summer, 4 inches (10 cm) deep and 9 inches (23 cm) apart, continuing the topsy-turvy calendar followed by this plant. The winter leaves make a perfect backdrop for snowdrops, hellebores or aconites, and are highly prized for winter flower arrangements.

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