We are heading into Edgefield Summer Concert season! The first show kicks off this Sunday, June 22, featuring Sarah McLachan. And if that ain’t your cup o’ tea, the entire show schedule is available here.
If you make it out to Edgefield for a concert, take time to stroll around the grounds, pint in hand, before showtime. The 74-acre property’s gardens are tended year-round by a full-time staff, one that numbers seven people in the height of the summertime. Take a quiet moment on a bench in the herb garden, walk through the magic red door to the vegetable garden, check out the fruit in the orchard, stop to enjoy the flowers in the Wedding Meadow…
But, whatever you do, do not ask the gardeners the following question:
“Hey, do you know what that huge Jurassic Park-looking plant is, near the pond at the Little Red Shed?“
The answer to the question above is: Yes, of course they know what plant you’re talking about. Because not only was it planted there on purpose, but it is probably the single most often-asked question that our Edgefield gardeners receive all year, especially in the warmer seasons.
In fact, they get this question so often that a former employee suggested they have t-shirts made up that say:
IT’S A GUNNERA.
The gunnera is a genus of herbaceous flowering plants, some of them massive in size. Its 40-50 species vary greatly in leaf size. Gunnera manicata, native to the Serra do Mar mountains of southeastern Brazil, is perhaps the largest species, with leaves typically 5 to 6 feet wide, but up to 11 feet long, on strong leaf stalks up to 8 feet long. The Edgefield plant truly looks like something a brontosaurus would eat while foraging in an ancient tropical jungle.
Here’s a quick interview with Head Gardener Kim Kincaid about the gunnera (a.k.a. the dinosaur plant). Kim has been at Edgefield since the very beginning – she and Patrick McNurney laid the gardens out, one plot at a time, beginning in the early 1990s.
When was the gunnera planted at Edgefield?
The gunnera was planted in either 1997 or ’98 when we did the installation of the pond by the Little Red Shed. The site where it is planted has moist soil throughout the year, which are ideal conditions and has thrived for over 15 years. The plant was a gift to the gardens from a very nice couple who would frequent the property. It was transplanted from a 3-gallon can. I am not positive what the species is, but my guess would be: Gunnera manicata [Ed. note: giant rhubarb, in layman’s terms]. It is such an incredible specimen and adds an anchoring, architectural element to the garden.
On average, how many times are you and your staff asked about it?
Late spring through summer when the plant displays its magnificent, gigantic glory, the gardeners are asked to identify the plant . . . a lot!
What other interesting and unique plants are overlooked around the property, in your opinion? What are some of your favorites?
Tough question since I find a unique beauty in all the plants that grace the gardens throughout the seasons at Edgefield. It’s hard to name favorites, it changes daily. There are a couple of unique bloomers in the Herb Garden right now, which are interesting. One of my sentimental favorites is the St. Mary’s Thistle. We acquired this Victorian era, biennial herb from plants’ woman Janet Starnes. She collected seed while on a garden tour, on one of her trips across the pond to England. In the herb garden at Edgefield, we let a little of the plant go to seed each year to keep it coming back year after year since 1992. The very peculiar Dracunculus vulgaris (Voodoo Lily) is exhibiting its unique magic too!
Can the gunnera plant be used for any other means – edible, medicinal?
I have read certain species are edible, and one known species is used as a traditional medicine in South Africa.
Any other thoughts or observations?
The Edgefield gardens are enchanting in the summertime, with all of its spell-binding ethereal beauty. A great time to stroll the grounds and experience the magic first hand!
Despite the name, the Gunnera manicata plant is not closely related to the rhubarb. This plant is also commonly found on the Isle of Arran in Scotland, where the leaves are traditionally picked and used as umbrellas by locals on the night after the highland games.
Guest’s photo at left taken from dangergarden.blogspot.com/2009/10/edgefield.html.