Asarum delavayi ‘Giant’*: Giant Wild Ginger, Panda face ginger
As an antidote to my post about Vita Sackville-West’s macabre ‘Box of the Dead’ earlier this week, I thought I’d share a happier tale. Regular readers will know that I often purchase plants without any real idea where I am going to plant them. It’s an addiction, and one I’m not interested in overcoming. These stateless individuals have to eek out an existence in a pot until such a time as they find their promised land, or curl up and die. One such plant is Asarum delavayi ‘Giant’, purchased last year from the lovely people at Decoy Nursery in East Sussex and consigned to the cold frame in our London garden ever since.
I had good reason for not planting it in the garden immediately: at the time Mr Fox was molesting anything that I considered remotely desirable, and I could not trust the snails not to finish the job. The cold frame felt like the safest place, and there my asarum stayed, neither growing a great deal nor showing signs of distress. It just sat there, doing nothing, looking a little bit green and dishevelled, as asarums sometimes do.
Imagine my surprise when, in need of cheering up today (I have a monstrous cold, or man flu, whichever you prefer to call it), I checked the cold frame for signs of new life and was met with two giant panda faces staring back at me. At ground level the black and white flowers might have been harder to spot, but raised at chest level they were quite a spectacle. Each was about 2 inches across; the black part rich and velvety like the material used to line jewellery boxes, and the white part ridged and furrowed like snow. I know of no other flowers quite like them – they put those of Asarum splendens in the shade. Once plants are established they can produce tens of flowers each spring. New leaves, emerging now, are large, glossy, slightly mottled and a magnet for molluscs, hence a few holes here and there.
Will I give my asarum its freedom and plant it out somewhere moist and shady? Probably not. On balance it will do better where I can protect it from snails or rain splatters and enjoy those extraordinary flowers at close quarters every spring. It does, however, deserve a proper terracotta pot, rather than a nasty black plastic one.
If you’d like to give Asarum delavayi ‘Giant’ a try in your own garden, Decoy Nursery are currently offering plants by mail order. Click here for further details.
* There does appear to be some difference in the naming of this plant, with nurseries offering similar looking asarums under the name Asarum maximum ‘Ling Ling’, ‘Panda’ and ‘Silver Panda’. Both Asarum maximum and Asarum delavayi are botanical names recognised by the RHS, so perhaps they are distinct. All are just as fabulous as one another, so who cares?