Ligularia sounds like some kind of pasta or seafood, but no, it's a plant, a perennial flower that has captured my fancy.
I should say "flowers," because there are two species of ligularia that could captured one's fancy. Despite some similarities, they differ in their effect on the garden scene.
BIG LEAVES AND PRETTY FLOWERS, TO BOOT
The aptly named big-leaf ligularia (Ligularia dentata) sports large, leathery, kidney-shaped leaves. With age, the plant billows over the ground like a green cumulus cloud 3 or 4 feet tall and wide. The leaves have some purple in them — quite a bit in the case of the variety Desdemona, whose leaves start out pure purple. As the leaves expand, their topsides turn green, but the purple colour is retained below.
Like hosta, big-leafed ligularia could earn a place in the garden just for its leafy show. And as with hosta, a floral show adds icing to this cake. Big-leafed ligularia's flowers are 5-inch-diameter yellow daisy heads that snuggle just above the foliage in late summer. Flowers of the variety Sungold are a bit more prominent, hovering higher above the cloud of foliage.
GRACEFUL WANDS OF SMALL, YELLOW BLOSSOMS
The other ligularia, Ligularia stenocephala, has no common name. The variety called The Rocket is what you usually see of this plant, and that name comes close to describing this ligularia's effect. More than stiff rockets, though, this ligularia sends up graceful, tall wands packed loosely with small yellow flowers.
The Rocket's leaves grow in clumps like its cousin's, but not nearly so boldly. They are shaped somewhere between a diamond and a heart, with toothed edges.
GET THE BEST OUT OF EITHER, OR BOTH, LIGULARIAS
Current affections for both ligularias notwithstanding, in their youth they only hint at future greatness. A truly bold presentation comes only after the plants have filled out and spread a bit to create billowing mounds of leaves with attendant masses of blooms.
One thing that slowed the path to glory for my big-leaf ligularia was a rushed planting; I thoughtlessly set plants in the ground in full sun in well-drained soil. Big-leaf ligularia might enjoy full sun if planted along the edge of a stream, but filtered shade suits it better in drier soils. The same could be said for The Rocket.
Planning their companions brings out the best in both ligularias. Hostas, astilbes and ferns all make visually congenial neighbours for them, echoing in some ways and contrasting in others the ligularias' forms and colours.
My favourite combination is a row of The Rocket backed by tall ostrich ferns, The Rocket's yellow wands sweep across the upper part of the verdant backdrop while, lower down, the broad leaves contrast the ferns' frilliness.