For some fascinating winter time reading, and perhaps inspiration for novel plants to grow, take a look at the wonderful and weird ways Mother Nature expresses herself in Bizarre Botanicals by Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross (Timber Press, 2010, $24.95). From carnivorous plants like cobra-lily to a flowering woody shrub appropriately named spider's tresses to the skin-crawlingly named tapeworm plant, the book profiles all sorts of strange botanical oddities with great photography, unusual facts, and tips on growing the plants yourself. Author Mellichamp is a professor of botany and horticulture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and director of the University's Botanic Garden, where co-author Gross is the assistant director. Together they have grown every plant they write about, giving the reader the benefit of all their first-hand experience. If nothing else, the book is worth the photo on page 22 of the stem of the desert tortoise plant, which you will not believe is actually a living plant -- weird is indeed wonderful!
Favorite or New Plant
'Sherwood Purple' Creeping Woodland Phlox
One of the beautiful sights in my spring garden is when the creeping woodland phlox, Phlox stolonifera 'Sherwood Purple', covers the ground beneath my oak tree with its carpet of soft purple blossoms. The fragrant flowers of this native are held above a spreading mat of green leaves on 10 inch stems in May, abuzz with visiting bees in the dappled spring sunshine as the oak unfurls its leaves. I have combined this phlox with a native of southern and midwestern wooded uplands, the dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata 'Alba'), whose sword-shaped leaves and gold-crested white blossoms contrast nicely with the cool hue of the phlox. This iris is also a spreader that can hold its own with the phlox; both are easy care groundcover choices that do well in moist, well-drained acid soil and thrive in sun to shade from Zone 4 south.