If you live in a northern European climate but desire the escapism of a tropical effect garden then one of the key factors required to create this illusion is the usage of large leaved plants. Living as I do in the south of England I am blessed with a slightly milder climate than the norm for Great Britain, however I have seen successful tropical effect gardens as far north as the midlands. The secret to this is to create a microclimate, the details for which will need to be pursued in another article.

I have created a list that comprises of the largest leaved plants that can be grown in Great Britain, as well as a couple of less hardy that will need to be treated as annuals and a few that just incredibly evocative of the tropics.

Gunnera manicata

This is the largest leaved plant that you can possibly grow in Great Britain. Native to South America from Colombia, the leaves of the giant ornamental rhubarb can grow as large as 11 ft in diameter given a wet summer.

The underside of the leaf (including the stalk) is covered in spikes. In early summer it bears tiny red-green flowers in conical branched panicles, followed by small, spherical fruit. However, if you allow the rather ugly flower spike to bloom the gunnera will stop producing leave until flowering is over. Removal of the flower spike at an early age will ensure further leaf production.

Tetrapanax rex

Not as well known as the Gunnera and prone to suckering, Tetrapanax rex. Native to Taiwan, it is undoubtedly one of the most architectural, hardy, exotic plants possible to grow here in the U.K.

In milder regions it can be almost be considered evergreen but further north it will need to be treated as a deciduous shrub, hardy in most regions. In particularly cold areas it is worth protecting the trunk in winter with straw or fleece.

Paulownia tomentosa

Now this one is a bit of a cheat as the leaves of the Paulownia tomentosa are only about 16 inches across. However the young growth of Paulownia tomentosa (otherwise known as the foxglove tree) exhibits uncharacteristically large leaves and this can be exploited by pollarding the tree and ensuring there is vigorous new growth every year.

Using this technique, massive leaves are produced which can be as large as 30 inches across.

Giant Hostas

Hosta are well known for their large heart-shaped leaves and come in such a large variety of sizes and colour forms that there is one for almost every need. There are plenty of giant leaved hostas to choose from although they are rarely seen in your typical garden centre rare, however the largest leaved hosta ever introduced to commercial production is Hosta 'Empress Wu'.

This is a massive specimen with deeply-veined, dark powder blue leaves that can measure a rediculous 28" long by 25" wide! This extremely large hosta will grow up to 5' tall and 8' wide, but there are many other, slightly smaller forms that you can choose from.

Ligularia dentata

Ligularia is an often overlooked genus of robust Old World herbaceous perennial plants which are native to damp habitats mostly in central and eastern Asia, although there are a few species from Europe.

They produce large round leaves as much as 12 inches wide , but will also produce rather stunning yellow or orange composite flower heads in the summer and autumn. Some of the most impressive examples are the purple leaves varieties such as Ligularia dentata 'Britt-Marie Crawford'

Fatsia japonica

Fatsia japonica is a species of glossy-leaved, flowering plant native to southern Japan and South Korea. Suitable for both sun and shade, this evergreen shrub is a particularly handsome specimen that can grow up to 20ft tall, with stout, sparsely branched stems.

The leaves are eight-lobed and palmate and are also available in a number of stunning cultivars. perhaps the most exotic is the recent 'Spiders Web' introduction.

Trachycarpus fortunei

Commonly known as the Chusan palm, Trachycarpus fortunei is one of the hardiest true palms that can be grown in Great Britain. Native to central China, south to northern Burma and northern India. It is a fan palm with the leaves that can be as long as 75 inches! While slow growing, given enough time it will eventually reach a height of up to 60ft tall.

It is quite happy growing in cool, damp conditions and records have shown that individuals will tolerate temperatures as low as −27.5 °C. However, lower tolerance limits of −15 °C to −20 °C are cited for mature plants. Young plants are less hardy, and can be damaged by only −8 °C.

Butia capitata

Also known as Jelly Palm, Butia capitata is notable as one of the hardiest feather palms, tolerating temperatures down to about −10 °C.  It will grows to around 6 metres tall, sometimes larger, but in a slow and steady manner. It is easily identifiable by its feather palm pinnate leaves that arch inwards towards a thick stout trunk.

Native to South America, the name Jelly Palm relates to the edible fruit flesh which is fibrous, sweet and taste similar to apricots. The fruit is sometimes made into a sweet jellies and jams.

Chamaerops humilis

Known as the European fan palm, Chamaerops humilis is the only palm species native to continental Europe.  It is the northernmost naturally occurring palm in the world, eventually reaching 2–5 m tall. It is adapted to a Mediterranean climate with cool, moist winters and summer drought, and will even grow on poor, rocky soils.

It is one of the hardier palms available, able to tolerate temperatures down to about −12°C. It will grow even in climates where the summer temperatures are no higher than the low 20's C.

Dicksonia antarctica

Dicksonia antarctica is a species of evergreen tree fern native to parts of Australia and Tasmania. They can grow to 50 ft tall in their natural habitat, but in northern European gardens you can expect around 15–20 ft. They are extremely slow growing at a rate of 3 to 5 cm per year, and only then if they are kept in optimum condition. With this in mind always purchase the largest specimens that you can afford.

They will do best on damp, sheltered woodland slopes and moist gullies, but so long as you can supply enough water they will grow anywhere including full sun.

Matteuccia struthiopteris

There are plenty of large leaved ferns out there but the largest is the outrageously impressive shuttlecock fern - Matteuccia struthiopteris. Native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, it requires permanently moist, humus-rich soil in dappled shade.

The deciduous green fronds are almost vertical, growing up to 70 inches tall. They are long-tapering to the base but short-tapering to the tip, so that they resemble ostrich plumes, hence their other common name of ostrich fern.

Echium pininana

Commonly known as the Tree Echium, Echium pininana is a biennial or triennial plant, native to La Palma in the Canary Islands. Its natural habitat are laurel forests, where it is now endangered through habitat loss. It is surprisingly hardy and produces one of the world's largest flower spikes reaching an over height of between 4-5 metres. It outrageous size now means that is becoming a common sight in the gardens of Britain and Ireland.

Be aware that they are susceptible to wind damage so a sheltered garden position is essential. To be on the safe side employ a sturdy stake once they exceed 2 meters in height.

Eriobotrya japonica

Commonly known as the loquat, Eriobotrya japonica is a species of flowering plant native to south-central China. It is a large evergreen shrub or small tree grown for its ornamental habit and large glossy leaves. It is also produced commercially for its yellow fruit.

The leaves are between 4–10 inches long, dark green, tough and leathery in texture, with a serrated margin. They also have a coat of dense, velvety hairs on the underside of each leaf. The young leaves are also densely hairy on the upper surface, but this soon rubs off.

Ficus carica

You will know Ficus carica better as the common fig. Native to the Middle East and western Asia, is widely grown throughout the temperate world, both for its fruit and as an ornamental plant. It is a large deciduous shrub with bold, deeply lobed leaves.

It grows wild in dry and sunny areas, with deep and fresh soil, and can reach a considerable size when mature forming a large dense shade tree. Not all Ficus carica varieties are hardy enough for outdoor cultivation in northern Europe but 'Brown Turkey' has proven itself to be a prolific and reliable variety.

It is a drought tolerant species once established and will require a position in full sun.

Hedera colchica 'sulphur heart'

Hedera colchica is a species of ivy native to the Near and Middle East. It is commonly called Persian ivy and is an evergreen climbing plant growing to a height of 30 metres where suitable surfaces exist.

 It is extremely tough and adaptable, preferring a well-drained or alkaline soils rich in nutrients and humus with good water provision. Like many climbing plants, it prefers its roots in cool shade with its stems in full sun.

Vitis coignetiae

Commonly known as the Crimson Glory Vine, Vitis coignetiae is native to the temperate climes of Asia, where it can be found in the Russian Far East, Korea and Japan. It is a very vigorous vine with purple shoots, but its most defining feature are its large, deciduous leaves which can be 12 inches or more in diameter and turn an attractive scarlet and crimson colour in autumn.

Vitis coignetiae is ideal for sun or partial shade in a well-drained soil, especially in a neutral or alkaline soil

Magnolia grandiflora

Magnolia grandiflora, commonly known as the southern magnolia or bull bay, is a medium to large evergreen tree which can grow up to 90 ft tall. Native to the southeastern United States it is a large specimen with large dark green leaves up to 8 inches long and 4.5 inches wide and large white fragrant flowers up to 12 inches in diameter.

The leaves are dark green, stiff and leathery, and often have a yellow-brown pubescence underneath.

Grow Magnolia grandiflora in moist, well-drained preferably neutral to acid soil in sun or part shade. Unlike many other magnolia species it will tolerates dry, alkaline soil.

Musa basjoo

Musa basjoo is a hardy species of banana native to southern China. It is a herbaceous perennial with a trunk-like pseudostem and can grow to an overall height of around 20 ft tall. It produces a crown of mid-green leaves which can grow up to 7 ft long and 30 inches wide when mature.

Although the pseudostem can only cope with a few degrees below freezing, the root system is considered cold hardy. If it is well insulated with a thick mulch, it can tolerate temperatures down to −12 °Celsius. If the pseudostem is killed, the plant is not dead as the banana will resprout from the ground and can rapidly grows to full size in a single season under optimal conditions.

Protection from strong winds will prevent tearing of the potentially massive leaves.

Musa sikkimensis

Also called the Darjeeling Banana, Musa sikkimensis is a native to Bhutan and India and is one of the highest altitude growing banana species.

It is a robust specimen growing to about 4 m tall with a yellowish-green foliage and reddish tinged pseudostem. Its is one of the most ornamental of the banana family and second only in hardiness to Musa basjoo. Water well during the summer months and provide plenty of well-rotted garden compost or farm-yard manure.

Zantedeschia aethiopica 'Crowborough'

Zantedeschia aethiopica is a deciduous perennial (evergreen in mild areas) that grows to 1m in height, with rich green, arrow-shaped leaves.

Native to southern Africa in Lesotho, South Africa, and Swaziland, it is usually found growing in streams and ponds or on the banks. It grows to 2–3 ft tall, with large clumps of broad, arrow shaped dark green leaves up to 18 inches long. Plant in full sun.

For related article click onto the following links:
Buy Hardy Banana Seed
Buy Tree fern Seeds
Cold Hardy Plants with Giant Leaves
Fatsia japonica 'Spiders Web'
MUSA LASIOCARPA - The Chinese dwarf banana
TETRAPANAX Papyrifer Rex
THE DARJEELING BANANA - Musa sikkimensis
THE RED ABYSSINIAN BANANA - Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’

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