Growing gunnera

by James Alexander-Sinclair

I have always found plants with big leaves fascinating. I love hearing raindrops pattering on leaf canopies whilst pushing through an overgrown path...

Colony of gunnera growing on the edge of a pond at RHS Garden RosemoorI 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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Gardeners' World Web User 26/09/2011 at 18:04

The Bristol botanic Garden has several species of gunnera, not all big. One is small enough to go in a small garden. They are very prickly to weed under but I like them best in the spring when they just emerge from there winter sleep. There stems are red as rhubarb and the emerging furled umbrellas are a loely light green. I wrote a poem once about a mouse family I found under a gunnera plant. I'll see if I can find it.

Gardeners' World Web User 26/09/2011 at 18:25

Found it! Under the gunnera sat a wee mouse. "Right here," she sighed,"is the place for my house." No gardener likes those dreadful, sharp prickles, But we thick-skinned mice think they just tickle. So she scavenged around in the Garden's wet bog For spagnum and twigs from a decaying log. She made a fine nest from all of her treen And when she gave birth, her brood was thirteen.

Gardeners' World Web User 26/09/2011 at 19:28

The Gunnera Umbrella. Under the gunnera sat a wee mouse; Good, she decided, fine site for her house; It would keep her nest quite cosy and dry, Hygienic and private for expected small fry. No one is willing to weed those huge leaves; Those spiky prickles do need thorn-proof sleeves. She gathered some leaves and scraps of old labels, Also some twiglets to make it more stable, Ignoring the gunnera, scuttling around, Its prickles avoided, when once they were found. Thirteen blind babies arrived the next day. Mice seem to thrive and evolve well that way. Those babies grew quickly to venturesome teens; They soon found the Garden had fine peas and beans; They deserted their home for lush pulses and grain; But ran back at once when it started to rain. A message for folk who are feeling neglected - If recession hits hard you will soon be respected. This was written when recession hit and young people who had left home began returning to the family nest when their finances took a hit. It's a longer version of the first one.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/10/2011 at 20:08

can you tell me is there any gunnera that can withstand frost and does it have to have its feet wet all the time

Gardeners' World Web User 18/11/2011 at 15:28

Hi i have noticed on a Fuschia in my greenhouse orange powder residue on the underside of it's leaves, does anyone know what it is or how to treat it?? i am a novice gardener and need advice please? thanks connie

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