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I have always found plants with big leaves fascinating. I love hearing raindrops pattering on leaf canopies whilst pushing through an overgrown path, surrounded by plants that are bigger than me. It is probably a deep-rooted jungle instinct. I have only slept in a jungle once and was kept awake by noises and insects, so I lay there enjoying the sound of rain. The connected problem of very wet socks and damp bedding was less appealing. I have to say that I was quite pleased to get out of there, but I still appreciate the romance of the idea. It takes me back to reading children’s books like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, full of lurking animals and noisy birds.
Last week I renewed my acquaintance with the giant Gunnera manicata at RHS Garden Rosemoor, growing on the edge of a pond. It is well worth a trip to these lovely gardens in Devon to see it (and at this time of year there is the bonus of watching the apple harvest there.)
I first saw Gunnera manicata when I was a small boy and have been fascinated by it ever since. It is not a friendly plant – in fact it is quite hostile when you get in close. The stubbly leaves can reach a diameter of about six feet and are supported by thick, thorny stems. The flowers are odd-looking brownish spikes that shoot up in summer. You couldn’t fit it into a small garden pond, but it provides enormous impact in a large pond or boggy area of the garden.
Unfortunately this Gunnera species is a little susceptible to frost, so it is best to protect the crown of the plant over winter. This is easily done by folding the dying leaves over the crown. In cold areas a bit of straw and fleece can be added for extra protection.
At least if you insist on camping under a Gunnera in your garden, rather than venturing to a jungle, you are far less likely to be woken by a snake.
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