January 23, 2014 6 Comments
A friend recently posted a picture on Facebook of her Washington-state yard. Like most Washington-state yards at this time of year, it was mostly under two inches of water. Off to one side, however, was the most spectacularly huge-leaved plant:
I mistook it for a Philodendron selloum, which was unlikely, even in warm wet Washington, but my friend quickly corrected me. It is, in fact, a Gunnera manicata.
Gunnera’s glory is its foliage. The leaves, as you can see, are comically gigantic. It’s sometimes called “wild rhubarb,” as the leaves very much resemble those of rhubarb, and some gardeners call it “dinosaur plant,” for obvious reasons. Can’t you just picture a brontosaurus peacefully chomping on it?
The more I studied the picture, the more I knew I’d seen it before. I went through some old photos and found it in Adare, a picturesque Irish village Partner and I visited in 2007; it was growing at the boggy end of a public park, and its leaves were so spectacular that I had to take a picture of it. I discovered online that it’s a moderately common garden plant in Ireland; locals sometimes pick the leaves and use them as umbrellas.
Gardens should always be a mix of old and new, common and unexpected, big and small. We love to see a hundred daffodils in bloom, but we need the darkness of tall ominous pine trees behind them to make them shine. We cherish our one-blossom-at-a-time borders, but we need something big and splashy to give them drama.
Gunnera, with its rich green tablecloth-sized leaves, will give your garden all the drama it needs.
Just don’t blame me if you start attracting dinosaurs.