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July 10, 2018 > Big is beautiful

Big is beautiful

Submitted By Daniel O'Donnell

Throughout history there has been a fascination with making miniature recreations. These include small scale furniture for doll houses, tiny ships in bottles, and miniature portraits. The latest trend from Japan in the miniature arts is making tiny edible meals. Videos showing the process of making a micro-hamburger that can sit on a fingertip and creating a micro-breakfast with bacon, eggs, and toast on a plate the size of a quarter are just a couple of the creations that inspired many people worldwide to take up the hobby and millions to watch the videos. The popularity does not mean that giant sized things are not equally as impressive. People still watch movies about dinosaurs, visit the tallest buildings, and grow giant varieties of some common plants.

There are plenty of enormous plants that look remarkable. A massive Redwood or giant Sequoia cannot be beaten on the impressive scale. Fifteen-foot-tall Saguaro cacti symbolize the seductive charm of the Southwestern desert and fifteen-foot-wide Fremontodendrons carpeted with spring flowers are admired locally. There is no surprise factor that produces a visceral reaction when they are seen in a home garden because these plants are expected to be large. The element of wonder needs to come from the unexpected. That is what sets an extraordinary garden apart. There are several large plant varieties that can provide this surprise factor.

Dahlias are loved by beginner and experienced gardeners alike for their striking display of blossom color combinations and diverse array of flower shapes and sizes. The Bell Tree Dahlia, Dahlia imperialis, is treasured for its height. Its deciduous bamboo-like stalks can get up to 20 feet tall and produce multiple large lavender flowers in late fall and into early winter. The Bell Tree Dahlia can be purchased at Annie's Annuals in Richmond (

There are over 10,000 different fern species. Over 1,000 are different types of tree ferns. The Australian Tree Fern, Cyathea cooperia, literally overshadows most of the others. They can grow over 40 feet tall and have individual bright green lacy fronds that can measure up to 20 feet long. They prefer bright shade but can tolerate full sun if the temperature is not scorching. They do not require as much water as many other ferns but are not drought tolerant. They will need weekly watering. Australian Tree Ferns or closely related species can be purchased or ordered from many local retail nurseries.

Giant Rhubarb, Poor Man's Umbrella, and Dinosaur Food are some of the more colorful common names for Great Gunnera, Gunnera mancata. It is one of the largest Gunnera species. As if the massive six-foot umbrella shaped leaves did not make a big enough impact, they sit on thick rhubarb-like stalks that can reach eight feet long. This particular species prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade. It grows well in the Bay Area but needs plenty of moisture. Try using collected rain water or laundry-to-landscape irrigation. Check local nurseries or Direct Gardening (

The vibrant orange Bird of Paradise flowers that sit on the end of stalks about three or four feet off the ground in many Bay Area landscapes are universally loved for their tropical look. Look a little further up the pecking order and into the sky and you will find the Giant Bird of Paradise, Strelitzia nicolai. It can grow up to 30 feet tall and fifteen feet wide and produces the same bird head-shaped flowers as the orange variety but quadruple the size. These impressive white flowers, even 20 feet above, give the tropical feeling of being in paradise.

Russia is not only the largest country in the world but is also famous for the enormous Mammoth Russian Sunflower, Helianthus annuus. Grown from an average-sized black sunflower seed, within 80 to 120 days it will have germinated, sprouted, and grown to 10 feet tall and have produced a giant two-foot diameter bright yellow flower with well over 1,000 seeds. The initial set of seeds (and for the Giant Pumpkin below) can be purchased from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Petaluma (

Everyone wants to grow large vegetables to show off their ability as a gardener. Nothing displays agrarian expertise like growing a 2,000-pound giant pumpkin, which is botanically a fruit. The Atlantic Giant Pumpkin is the plant that will make it possible in only 120 days. It can be grown like any other pumpkin or squash vine, the only difference is that to get a trophy pumpkin, only one fruit can be supported by the plant. Although a 2,000-pound pumpkin is at the top of the maximum size range, a 500-pound pumpkin would still be a massive success.

Miniature trends are not new in the gardening world. The art of bonsai has been around for centuries. Although growing a giant variety of a common plant might not become a trend, it will surely create a big impact.

Daniel O'Donnell is the co-owner and operator of an organic landscape design/build company in Fremont.

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