Impress with big leaves

Make a bold statement with big leaves


Life & Style
Foliage of hostas, Ligularia dentata and gunnera enhance the foreground of this massed planting in Sara and Blair Gallagher’s garden at Rangiatea, Mt Somers, NZ (www.rangiatea.co.nz/)

Foliage of hostas, Ligularia dentata and gunnera enhance the foreground of this massed planting in Sara and Blair Gallagher’s garden at Rangiatea, Mt Somers, NZ (www.rangiatea.co.nz/)

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Want to make a bold statement in your garden then Fiona Ogilvie suggests to add big leafed plants.

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Big leaves make wonderful garden statements.

“Plant them in front,” a friend who’s an artist and brilliant gardener told me.

“They make beds look bigger. Put tiny leaves at the back.”

It was mid-winter and we were admiring some frost covered bergenias at the time, but it wasn’t until I tried out the idea the following summer with a plume poppy (Macleaya) that I really got it.

I’ve had an affection for big leaves ever since and I now think of them first when I want re-plant or update a corner.

Big leaves are easy for tropical gardeners: Alocasias, Bromeliads, Caladiums and you’ve still got the rest of the alphabet to get through. 

They’re also easy if your annual rainfall resembles that of the Shaky Isles rather than sunny NSW: I have seen bigger gunneras, hostas and ligularias in New Zealand than anywhere in the world.

Gardeners in northern NSW with summer rainfall, lucky ducks, can grow all these as they’re perfectly hardy.

The rest of us need to look slightly further for eye catching plants that will also take frost, heat and drought. 

Big leaves lose water faster than tiddlers (hence their rarity in the Australian flora) so grey leaves are a good place to start as silver and grey reflect the sun’s heat.

Waxy and hairy leaves are good too as they help trap and conserve water. 

My plume poppy has waxy large, oak shaped, leaves and grows to around 1.5 metres in summer. Be sure to plant M. cordata; the invasive M. macrocarpa spreads like couch grass at the speed of light.

Big leaves are easy for tropical gardeners: Alocasias, Bromeliads, Caladiums and you’ve still got the rest of the alphabet to get through.

Prostrate growing lamb’s ears (Stachys lanata) has oval shaped, furry silver leaves and pale mauve summer flowers. S. byzantina and its lemony yellow form ‘Primrose Heron’ are even better, as they have bigger leaves and rarely flower, good for avoiding potential colour clashes.

Ornamental sages (Salvias) are also excellent for dry summers. S. argentea forms a rosette of large silver leaves covered in silky hairs and produces 60-90 centimetre tall candelabra of small white flowers. S. x turkestanica has large, oval shaped, grey leaves and similarly tall flower spikes with cream and pale pink flowers.

Cut flower spikes off if you want plants to live longer and not set seed though unwanted seedlings are easily yanked out.

The leaves turn grey green after flowering but the silver and grey reappear in cooler weather. Mullein (Verbascum olympicum) has felty grey leaves and tall yellow flower spikes. 

Moving away from grey, cannas (C. indica hybrids) have dramatic, knee high, oval leaves in various greens and purples.

Tropicanna is striped red, green and yellow but isn’t reliably hardy.

My last lovely big leaf is apple green and belongs to night scented tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris). My plants are bigger than ever this year so must have liked the cold winter. Easy from seed and once established, self-sows mildly for ever.

Heads Up: Mayfield Garden Summer Festival (www.mayfieldgarden.com.au/whatson/) includes part of the private garden and runs to Sunday 28th January. 530 Mayfield Road, Oberon 2787, phone 02 6336 3131.

Do it now: deadhead annuals to keep flowers coming.

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