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IN THE GARDEN XANADU PHILODENDRON CONJURES PARADISE.

Byline: JOSHUA SISKIN

Xanadu was the legendary Mongolian summer capital and bucolic retreat of the conqueror and emperor known as Kublai Khan, who ruled over China in the 13th century. Xanadu is also the name of a relatively new variety of philodendron, and it has a look appreciated by paradise- seeking gardeners everywhere.

'Xanadu' is an accidental hybrid that was spotted as a seedling in Australia 20 years ago, but has only recently become widely available. It will remind you of Philodendron bipinnatifidum (formerly Philodendron selloum), whose Latin name is as long as its leaves are large, and whose common name is cut-leaf or tree philodendron.

Philodendron 'Xanadu' is likely to replace tree philodendron in the garden because of the latter's tendency toward vertical, leggy growth, which makes it a maintenance nightmare. Eventually, tree philodendron has to be cut down nearly to ground level, from where it will start growing again, in order to be controlled.

'Xanadu' has a much more compact growth habit, and its leaves, while lobed, are not as deeply cut as those of tree philodendron. 'Xanadu' leaves also grow to only 18 inches in size, while tree philodendron leaves expand to 3 feet or more in length.

Philodendron means tree lover (philo = love; dendron = tree) and refers to the epiphytic or vining growth habit of these tropical plants, which are native to Central and South America. Most philodendrons develop aerial roots (which become long and ropy in some types) and that assist them in wrapping around tree trunks in their skyward clambering.

Cut leaf and 'Xanadu' philodendrons are highly versatile since they can be planted in the shade garden, grown in containers outdoors, or utilized as indoor plants. Philodendrons belong to the arum family (Araceae), which includes many popular indoor plants such as devil's ivy (Pothos), arrowhead vine (Syngonium), Swiss cheese plant (Monstera), peace lily (Spathiphyllum), dumb cane (Dieffenbachia) and Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema).

'Xanadu' is a welcome addition to the shade garden, which all too often suffers the fate of the neglected child where garden design is concerned. Shade gardens frequently seem to be an afterthought, or painfully predictable, nearly always consisting of ferns, impatiens, azaleas and camellias. Be advised that there are alternatives for shade.

For example, lamium maculatum, known as dead nettle, is a sparkling ground cover. It illuminates shady garden spots with its white or silver leaf markings. Do not be fooled by its delicate look - it is hardy and will withstand freezing temperatures. There are half a dozen varieties of dead nettle, each with a different pattern on its foliage.

Pittosporum Tobira 'Variegata' is also a useful background plant in shade gardens.

It has bicolor cream and lime-green foliage that is bright enough to shine in light-deprived areas, but is not so overwhelming as to distract from flowering shade lovers such as hellebore, clivia and Japanese anemone.

Q: Every winter, I plant violas and/or pansies in pots on my patio, as they are among my favorite flowers. At least some of the plants end up victim to one of two problems. There is something that removes the blooms, so I'm left with a bunch of flowerless stems, though sometimes the flowers get nibbled on without being severed from the stem. Or, the plant stops growing, turns yellow and appears to have weakened at the point where it comes out of the soil, because when I pull on the plant to remove it, it easily breaks off. I've had my plants just over a month, and already some are having these problems. I've never seen any pests, just the damage left behind.

Dana Siliznoff,

Simi Valley

A: Your flowerless stems and nibbled flowers are most likely the result of caterpillar damage. Although you have not seen them, damaging caterpillars may be present since they may hide in the soil during the day. Apply B.T. (Bacillus thuringiensis), an organic larvicide, to control them. The weakening of your plants at ground level is a more common problem caused by a fungus. If pansies or violas are planted in the same soil year after year, the pathological fungi that kill them build up in the soil. Either change your soil or plant something else. Incidentally, the same fungus that kills pansies will also kill petunias and annual vinca.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Pay attention to the many varieties of Marguerite daisies now in bloom. You can find them in white, sulfur yellow, pink and ruby red. These perennials will provide color on and off throughout the year as long as they are moderately pruned after each flush of flowers. They look good for two to three years, but after this period of time lose most of their flowering capacity.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 25, 2006
Words:785
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