Pampered shade

Jack in the pulpit

Jack in the pulpit

I know that Jack in the Pulpit is not the only living thing that changes genders in order to adapt to its circumstances, but I still think it is a cool enough fact to mention. The plant starts out male and if in time it finds its location accommodating and its nutrient supply adequate, it becomes female and produces fruit, beautiful red berries that pepper the forest floor throughout the summer. If over its lifetime it stumbles upon a lean year it will turn male again until conditions improve.

Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley

Aren't they a sight for sore eyes? Their fragrance is carried by the lightest breeze, and it is surprisingly strong considering that they just started blooming.

I found the plant's ability to switch genders at will quite mind boggling, so I looked for pictures to learn how to tell the male and female flowers apart. The differences aren't really that obvious. It is easier to note that the female flowers sprout on plants with two sets of leaves than to draw the conclusion from looking at the exotic looking blossoms themselves.

My curiosity about this plant's unusual characteristic almost dulled my great excitement of seeing it in bloom in my back yard. For all those who say Jack in the Pulpit is easy to grow, I salute you and it's not nice to brag. As a side note, I don't think I ever read a how-to gardening guide that classified any plant as difficult to grow, so I'll offer up my gardening wisdom, here's one!

Like all woodland dwellers, it needs growing conditions that are near impossible to replicate in your average suburban garden: light and airy hummus soil that is both acidic and nutrient dense, loose but not quick draining because Jack in the Pulpit likes its feet wet. The location needs to receive a very precise mix of shade and sunlight to allow for flowers to develop but not scorch its foliage. The plants are slow growing but need lots of breathing room and if you're lucky enough to have them stick around, whatever you do, don't touch their roots!

This fortunate confluence of circumstances certainly didn't happen in my back yard, so I can't take credit for nature's miracle because I'm not sure how it happened.

Why did I go through the trouble of cultivating a plant I didn't think had a prayer to thrive? If I didn't try, we wouldn't be looking at this picture, right? After all these years of gardening I stopped trying to find reasons for my successes and failures, I just rejoice in the former, count my blessings and move on!

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Solomon's Seal

Solomon's Seal

Here's another woodland native, but one that is a little easier to adapt. The gardening wisdom says that once it finds conditions it likes, Solomon's Seal is quick to spread, so I assume that is not the case with mine, which still sports the three plants I started with.

It doesn't look unhappy, it doesn't spread, it doesn't require care, it's frozen in time. Maybe that is because I planted it in a full shade border where nothing else would thrive.

Solomon's Seal is a must have for a shade garden, it is the plant that has everything, beautiful foliage, interesting flowers, decorative berries. Some varieties are even fragrant.

If you are wondering how did the plant get its unusual name, plant lore says that King Solomon himself pressed his seal into the stem of the plant as recognition for its protective qualities, and if you break the stem close to the rhizome you can really distinguish a six pointed star inside it.

Solomon's seal is a medicinal plant, quite effective in alleviating muscle pain, bruising and even said to help mend broken bones. Just like many other valuable medicinal herbs it is quite toxic unless dosed correctly, not a treatment regimen to attempt without the advice and supervision of an experienced herbalist.

This beautiful spring bloomer is very low maintenance once established, but needs additional watering during the first summer, until it develops a strong root system.

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