Gunnera manicata

Now that I’ve decided on gardening glasnost (see ‘To Make A Gardener Anxious’), I can tell you all about one of my less resounding successes.  (Plenty more of these to come).

A large garden, with expanses of water, The Priory was just screaming out for Gunnera manicata – giant rhubarb.  Growing two to three metres high and up to four metres wide, gunnera would sit well with the scale of the grounds and frankly, the pond banks are quite bare.  Besides, I’ve worked in gardens with it before and it is simply a jaw-dropping plant.  I mean, it’s just so flipping BIG.  And, most importantly, I wanted to be able to parade about the gardens with a gunnera parasol.

Just like this chap:

Image from

So, back in 2008, I planted one on the bank of the east pond.   And then a year or so later, I planted another alongside the ditch that connects the east pond with the west.

The latter is doing alright.  This is it above (with my foot to give some idea of scale) and I’m expecting great things of it.  They take a while to get established …

And the original one?  Er, not so good.  Here it is.  It was doing as well as the other one – until last year.  In May 2010, as it burst into growth, I scraped aside its heavy winter mulch (they’re not hardy and need winter protection) just in time for a heavy, late, hard frost!  I’m such an idiot – I thought I was being helpful!  Didn’t kill it but seriously knocked it back.  Generally though, it doesn’t seem too happy in this spot and I think it might be a little too dry for it.  Might just dig it up, split it (it’s actually a big plant despite the size of its leaves) and relocate.

Never going to get a pretty parasol at this rate.

22 thoughts on “Gunnera manicata

  1. So consensus is you have it too dry. Plant it where it can stick roots right down into the pond mud. I still commend g. tinctoria Mark & Gaz are correct; it is smaller, but still parasol material. It won't be invasive in your part of the world – frost keeps it under control, but does not kill it – ideal.


  2. Hi Fay, thanks so much but I did have my heart set particularly on a parasol. A brollie just doesn't cut such a dash, dontcha think? Thanks for making me laugh though…



  3. Hi Bridget – here's hoping!

    Only been to Heligan once, Wellywoman and that was in April so missed the gunnera. But Sheffield Park, near to me, has them too and they are impressive. Look like they should be dinosaur food.

    Thanks Boys – plenty of advice there! I planted one of the gunnera quite high puposefully because the water level on the ponds can vary by two or three feet between winter and summer. So I was trying to ensure the crown wouldn't rot if I planted it too low (and was swamped overwinter). Anyway, I think it is now too high and so will move it in the Spring. Fairly certain it is manicata – as I got it from the garden centre where I worked. Obviously can't be 100% certain though.

    Hi Sara, sounds like you had an exciting time in Cornwall (chuckle) making your own entertainment. I'll do a post next year on how they turn out.

    Thanks Alberto – you're a charmer!



  4. Hey chap. Methinks if u relocate you'll get your brolly. (do I add that when happy up here it produces brollies?) hmm, no, best sush now.

    It will romp. Or I'll send the hardy Orkney ones down for a chat.


  5. Just a small setback, though, they'll be romping away soon and you'll be wondering how to control them. Though may require a little heavy work splitting and relocating first.
    We entertained ourselves a few years' ago taking pictures of each other beneath the monstrously tall leaves at the end of the lane in Cornwall where we rented a cottage for a holiday. There wasn't any water obviously about there, so perhaps they're not so picky once they've established…


  6. Hi Dave, the only thing I can think of, as you've said is that it is too dry where you've sited it. Perhaps relocate them right towards the edge of the big lake/pond at the priory where they can get their' feet on to the water whilst it's crown is still pretty much above it.

    Gunnera is also possible to grow in a container as long as it has a constant supply of moisture (kept boggy).

    Good luck and keep persevering 🙂 If it's happy it can produce big leaves even with just one season (but not as big just yet with the Heligan photo).

    Worth checking that you got the right species too. Make sure what you have is really a Gunnera mannicata as opposed to a Gunnera tinctoria which has smaller leaves (but still relatively big). They look identical when small and is easily confused in the nursery trade.


  7. I love Gunnera. I've often wondered how old they are, were they around when dinosaurs were. We were at Heligan recently and the Gunnera there are just incredible but they are growing in the jungle area by the lakes so I guess they do like a lot of moisture. I'm sure when you find the right spot they'll romp away.


  8. Hi Ronnie, I do love Chartwell. I last visited in Spring 2010 and got there first thing, just as it opened. It was great – I had the gardens pretty much to myself. Maybe the Denmans' gunnera had been put to bed for the winter? (I didn't steal them – honest). I know I need to do the same with mine in the next few days. Frost-is-a'coming.

    Hi Linniew and welcome, thank you so much – “pretty vibrant” gunnera! Who could ask for more? Gunnera is an odd name, you're right and does seem like it's dropped a last consonant or two.



  9. I'm happy with just edible rhubarb, but at my house Mr.O brought in a gunnera once. To begin, what kind of name is gunnera? I felt like we were offering a hideout to a member of the mob– But our ground is clay and our water supply limited. I honestly tried to keep it mulced and watered, but the gunnera got smaller and smaller. It may still be out there but I can't see it at all now. So really yours look pretty vibrant Dave.


  10. I first met this plant, many years ago at Chartwell – I had never seen such large leaves! They did have them at Denmans, but when I visited there a couple of weeks ago its all gone (may be you took it in the night LOL!!)


  11. BUT I WANT A GUNNERA PARASOL NOW (stamps foot). Er, I find it slightly worrying, Janet at the relish with which you relate the child eating properties of gunnera. Though it wasn't a trait I knew about, I'm jolly pleased that they control small children so effectively. I shall have to plant more! Thanks for the planting tip – the original plant is planted too high above the pond I now realize – sigh. Looks like I stumbled at the first gunnera planting hurdle.

    Hi Sproutling, I think gunnera are awesome too – except mine. Which frankly are rubbish. One day, though, one day …



  12. Mmm, might have to wait a year or two for your parasol. I envy you the chance to at least try and grow them, I've always loved them, and when we were living on Anglesey there was an enormous clump, of the kind that you could lose a football team of small children in, growing alongside the large pond. Being Anglesey, it was certainly getting plenty of water though… I've read that you can plant them in a mini bog garden, i.e. you dig a really big hole, line it with an old compost bag with plenty of holes in, cover with a thick layer of rotted manure or compost, and then plant. If you could try it out for me I'd know for if/when I ever have space for one for my nephews to hide in…


  13. Hi Helen, thanks for the planting tip – sounds like growing runner beans! They are very impressive at full size…

    A May frost was very unfair, Stacy (and I took it very personally), but then the Priory does sit in a frost pocket. So whereas my garden (at the time) up on the hill was largely unaffected, down at the Priory, I lost, amongst other things, all the blossom on the laburnum, all the blossom on the climbing hydrangea and a lot of the new growth on the beech hedge was badly burnt. All part of the fun. I'll take on board your tip re sun block – though I rather like the sound of the assistant, but I think six paces is quite close enough! And I'm quite taken with the gunnera and tasteful edging garden. Go to it!

    I'll keep you posted, Elaine on how they do – should only be a couple of years, though best not hold your breath.

    Hi Mr K, thanks for the info – never heard of G. tinctoria (though I've now read your post – must have missed that one!). Rather alarming reports on Wikipedia though at how invasive it is?? Especially in New Zealand and Ireland apparently. I shall labour on with my sulking gunneras I think.

    Indeed Faisal, I shall have the last laugh yet. My gunnera will be the envy of the gardening world. Just you see!!!

    I should think so Karen! I often feel that being split and relocated would do me the world of good.



  14. A May frost seems a little unfair, especially since if you hadn't scraped aside the mulch you would have had a heatwave. (Not to be a cynic or anything.) Just looked at some other photos on the web–those are going to be fabulous once they take hold, Dave, though sunscreen might still be a good idea for the next few years. By then you'll have an assistant who can carry the parasol for you (walking five steps behind, head respectfully lowered).

    A plant four meters wide would fill up my entire garden, with just enough room to spare for a tasteful edging.


  15. I saw a hugemonous gunnera in a garden last weekend it seemed to be growing on an island in a stream. I would love one but I suspect if it grew I would have no garden left.
    I read somewhere that you need to put lots of moisture retaining stuff in the whole to help them establish so newspaper and such like


Any thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.