Latin mice

We have mice in the garden. Not the kind that nibble the peas and eat the bird food. Not the kind that Bella watches every evening from her perch under the picnic table. We have these as well, though Bella does her best to keep their numbers down. The mice I am talking about are Latin scholars with very odd flowers:

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Arisarum Proboscideum – mouse plant

I don’t really do Latin names for the plants in my garden – I prefer to think of them in terms of how I can cook them, what they smell like, where to grow them, when they flower or why I’ve got them. But sometimes Latin is helpful to help you identify something. So, that’s the Latin over with. What about the other aspects of this plant?

Cooking: – I don’t think so – I didn’t realise this but, according to the RHS ,they are poisonous so just as well I’ve never thought of trying.

Scent: I don’t think they have one worth noticing

Where to grow: according to the RHS ‘woodland conditions’, ‘partial shade’, so that little dark north facing spot between the compost bins and the pond is obviously perfect

When they flower: now! Well midish spring I suppose which is why they are in my dark corner which I devote to late winter/ spring flowering things to cheer me up.

Where they came from: for me that’s the interesting thing about this weird little plant. We first acquired the mice from a retired botanist who took a liking to my small children. Touched by my older son’s passion for flowers when he was five or six, this elderly lady often brought us gifts of plants that she thought the boys would like. So she gave us a piece of mouse plant.

‘Plant it and look after it and let me know when you find the mice’.

So we planted it beside our shed in our old garden. We had spotted live mice under the shed so it felt like an appropriate place. It seemed a rather insignificant little plant but it produced mice and we were delighted. When we moved to our current house, we had to bring the mice with us. I dug them up, divided them and left some for the new owners (and the mice). They were among the first plants to find a home in our new garden – an optimistic hope that we could recreate some of what we had left behind in our much loved old garden. Now they are very settled and very prolific and the mice reappear every year: quiet, hidden and lasting only a few weeks but they remind me of happy times and a kind retired botanist who took an interest in small children. Sadly she is no longer with us but our memories of her live on.


One of my favourite gardening books is ‘A Gentle Plea for Chaos’ by Mirabel Osler (Bloomsbury 1989), a lovely book with a true gardener’s understanding of what it means to live with a garden.  She reminds us of the importance of relating plants to people.  Many of my flowering plants have come from relatives or friends: as gifts, as cuttings, as purchases with birthday garden tokens, or recommendations.  Some date back to those days with small children, when we spent a lot of time in garden centres and plant sales and came home with the most surprising things.  (We were a bit like the family in Sarah Garland’s ‘Doing the Garden‘) .  I try and remember where these plants came from.  I don’t always succeed but the mouse plant is special.


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