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Gunnera manicata (Giant Rhubarb)

Vast great Brazilian brute of a thing with leaves up to 6ft across. Giant Rhubarb describes it well.

Considering its tropical origins, it’s odd it grows so well in Britain but grow well it does. The frost gets the leaves in early winter but they start showing signs of life as early as February and off they go again. The leaves go from nothing in February to up to 6ft across by June but it’s important to understand that they can only perform if they have masses of water available to do their trick and will be encouraged if they’re in the shade of trees. The combination of shade (encouraging the leaves to be drawn up to the light) and water is essential if you want a bit of drama in the garden. Also, a bit of time. The larger you plant them, the better but they still need a few years to reach maximum size. Given the right conditions, they can get so big that you can comfortably walk underneath the leaves in the summer. They need availble water but will not survive in a bog. Near water, not in water.

We find planting small plants in late summer is not to be recommended. A cold winter might polish them off. Once established they seem perfectly hardy. There is a tradition to use the old leaves to cover the crown in winter. Not a bad idea from a husbandry point of view but not attractive from a design point of view. It doesn’t look pretty. Depends where you are and how cold your winters tend to be.

The flowers are great phallic things and they consume considerable energy. They’re all part of the fun but if you really want maximum sized leaves, remove them. The energy can then go into leaf production rather than peculiar looking flower production. Up to you.

This account is based on the presumption that if you want Gunnera manicata in your garden, you want something big and dramatic. Nothing to stop you growing them in sun or shade anywhere in the garden but enormous, they won’t become.

Propagated by us from seed.

Hardiness traffic light green

Hardiness level Green

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Hardy anywhere in Britain below approximately 1000ft (300m)

This is only meant as a guide. Please remember we're always on hand to give advice about plants and their frost hardiness.

Please remember that these coloured labels are only a rough guide.

General Point about Plant Hardiness: The commonly held belief that it's better to 'plant small' is perfectly true with herbaceous plants, but not necessarily true with woody plants. They need some 'wood' on them to survive severe cold - so plants of marginal hardiness in very cold areas should really be planted LARGER, rather than smaller, wherever possible.