A gardener’s lesson: tough love and discipline are good for us

The Tropical Garden, Spring 2005

By: Georgia Tasker

As an aroid addict, I have spent years collecting, nurturing and writing about this group of plants that includes philodendrons, monsteras, alocasias and more. But I have a confession to make: Some of them are monsters. Or so it would seem.

Several years ago, I bought a small Philodendron subincisum, an attractive Mexican aroid with glossy undulating leaves sporting scalloped edges. I planted it at the base of a royal palm. Offshoots of that plant have found their way around my garden. Over the years, the original philodendron has grown three quarters of the way to the top of the royal palm. It has sent out shoots at the base of the palm that now surround it with what appear to be self-contained clumps. Recently, as I was on a ladder trying to remove three and four layers of the P. subincisum vine from a Latania palm, I realized that the plant’s true calling is to reach for the stars. Every time I lop off a wayward section of vine, two or three new shoots emerge. I have forgotten exactly how the vine made it to the palms in my front yard, but I have a good suspicion.

The same thing has happened with Philodendron mexicanum, an aroid that occurs from Mexico through Ecuador. It has arrow-shaped leaves and a kind of matte finish. When it reached the top of a Veitchia palm in my front yard, it headed back down the palm, then back up, and then out across the mulch. So what did I do? Put part of it next to another palm.

And while I would love to blame the aroids for being out of control, the true fault lies in my wishy-washy ways. It is sometimes imperative to throw away cuttings and seedlings. My backyard is dotted with bird’s- nest anthuriums because they reproduce all the time and tough love has not been a part of my horticultural mindset.

When the firebush sends up root suckers, do I dig them up? When coffee does the same thing and birds drop seeds here and there, do I dig them up? Nope. I have a history of being a lily-livered gardener.

So here is a resolution, and I recommend you take note: Be firm. Compost. Toss. Give away. But do not feel compelled to save every cutting, every sprout, every shoot. Bring some discipline to the garden and the gardener. Be strong.