French name: Gunnére or Rhubarbe géante
One of the greatest things about gardening in France is the space. Even the smallest of houses here seem to come with the size of garden you can only dream of owning in the UK.
We are lucky enough to also have a petite source which runs through our back garden. This we have made larger and into a feature, lined on both sides by flower borders. Back in the UK I dreamed of owning a Gunnera, but the sheer size that this plant can grow to made it a big no-no for the small garden of our terraced house. Therefore our number one priority in our French garden, when digging the flower borders next to the small steam, was to create the perfect spot for a Gunnera.
Large Gunneras can be quite expensive to buy, so when I saw a small plant for sale at Jardiland for less than 20 euros I snapped it up. Small or not, this little plant shot up even in its first year, so never be afraid to buy smaller, more cost effect plants, once out of their pots they grow at a rate of knots. The photograph below shows our Gunnera this summer, in only its second year of growth.
Gunnera grow to a spectacular size, and are perfect for using as a specimen plant in either a bog garden or next to a pond. Gunnera requires deep, permanently moist, rich soil. To make sure our Gunnera never struggles for water, even in the heat of summer when temperatures can top 40 degrees, we have buried a small pipe which runs from the stream to the root of the plant.
The crowns of these glorious, architectural plants are prone to frost damage, and need nursing over winter to make sure they come back with a vengeance the following spring. This year, as last, I have cut all the leaves off the Gunnera and used them to cover and protect the crown. I have then covered the whole lot with a lovely layer of fleece, just to keep the plant extra snug and protected against the frost and snow we will experience at some point this winter in France. Last year we had temperatures that dropped down to -20 degrees and thick snow which covered the ground for many weeks and the Gunnera, protected in this way, came back to life the following spring with no problems whatsoever.
My big baby has been put to bed for the winter, but having seen the size of its lovely pink tinged crown in its full glory before I covered him over, I can not wait for the arrival of spring when the huge spiny leaves will emerge once more.
If you have a Gunnera in your garden or have any more suggestions for protecting the plant over winter, I’d love to hear about them so please feel free to leave your comments in the box below.