Bigger Not Always Better!

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I love the effect of large leaved plants, like the giant Elephant Ear grown in one of my container gardens this past season. (See ‘Flower of a Giant’ in my archived blogs). 

Perhaps monster sized plants intrigue me because they don’t grow naturally in CT so it is uncommon to see them here, plus they remind me of warm tropical beaches.  I also get a kick out of the reaction by my visitors when they see this huge plant situated on my deck.  They are stunned by its sheer size.  In fact, the leaves on my giant elephant ear grew to 5′ wide this season.  They would have grown even larger if it weren’t for the arrival of cool temps as the fall approached.

However, bigger is not always better for some plant lovers.  For starters, bigger plants need more space.  Larger containers must be used to accommodate the root mass and weight of the plant.  And overwintering large plants in your home requires a huge room with proper sunlight.  Thus, many gardeners prefer a smaller variety because of limitations or perhaps they just don’t like big, as I do!

Luckily, new varieties of dwarf forms are always being introduced.  As I read my trade magazines recently, three in particular caught my eye.  First is a new variety for the Southern Living Plant Collection of a colocasia (elephant ear).  ‘Little Black Magic’, a dwarf colocasia, will be introduced in spring 2010 in retail garden centers across the Southeast per the article in greenPROFIT.  This elephant ear has a deep black purple color and is more compact.  It will serve well in containers as a companion to plants with a lighter brighter color tone because dark colors offer wonderful contrast in designs.  See

The next plant that caught my eye is a compact Sweet Potatoe Vine.  This annual is one I often recommend in containers as a spiller.  They are easy to grow, fast, and cascade over edges of pots.  However, some gardeners have mentioned they don’t like how fast it grows – and that it grows too long.  As for my taste, I love the effect of it running on forever, especially if you drape it over something, like steps or a wall.  Yet, others find it a nuisance to keep up.  Thus, you are in luck if you can find this less aggressive form called Ipomoea ‘Chillin’ Blackberry Heart’.  This also has dark-purple foliage in a heart-shaped form.  Both this plant, and Little Black Magic serve as foliage supporters in your designs.

The third plant was advertised by Proven Winners as additions to their Graceful Grasses TM line called King Tut and Baby Tut.  As you can imagine by the names, King gets larger and Baby says more compact.   Cyperus papyrus and Cyperus involucratus are their respective botanical names.  These plants look like tall singular stalks with whorled umbrella forms on their tops.  They work really well in water gardens or container water gardens.  They can serve as centerpiece thrillers or stand-alone.  For more information on these new varieties, visit

And remember, bigger plants can offer many attributes.  They are seen from afar, cast shade to plant situated below them, add movement to scenes as they tussle in the wind, and just capture one’s attention!  However, smaller versions of the big forms can be used when you would prefer to be less noticeable or just don’t have the space.

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