Water for Elephants — In the Garden

Tropical plant “Elephant Ears” needs to drink often.

Tropically grown elephant ears (taro) strike a prominent pose when added to the New England garden, supplying giant, glossy leaves shaped like the ear of an elephant.

Each leaf nods in the wind like the entire head of that great beast, giving this flora life-like personality. The drama these tropical queens add guarantees that a few visitors will gasp with astonishment and barrage the gardener/game keeper with questions of how they too can keep one in their yard.

My “mum” has been growing them in large containers outside her back door for years. Her yard connects to my brother’s yard next door, so our family uses this door quite often. Her elephant ears greet those who enter with a bow and an almost conversational tilting back and forth of the head.

This bold beauty comes in large, larger and enormous sizes as well as green, variegated and black colors. Combine them or just pick your favorite.

This root plant called taro is grown in flooded fields in sunny, warm and moist places like Hawaii, so they need constant hydration. Some gardeners use them as water plants in fish ponds. Some plant them in the ground in a damp part of the yard. This year I am going to try a ¾ shade spot in the ground where I grow foliage plants near a gutter down spout. My hope is to let the gutters do my watering for me.

My mum grows them in water-retaining pots. Plastic, ceramic or any other man-made product that retains water works far better than terra cotta. Keep these thirsty friends hydrated and you will add a bold architectural structure to your garden.

Opinions differ regarding how much sun these animals can take. Even the bag in which I bought my most recent ones says “full sun” on the front and “shade to part shade” on the back. My mums are always beautiful in about 2/3 time shade. The leaves on those I plant in the sun often crinkle and burn. I would advise following my mum’s multi-decade experience. 

Bring these babes inside for the winter (if you have the space!) since frost will kill them. Wait until we are free of overnight frosts before planting. Starting early indoors is always an option.


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