Big ears

Easy to grow tropical adds contrast to beds

For drama in garden beds, it's tough to beat 'Black Magic' elephant's ear (Colocasia esculenta). Garden designer Mark David Levine often uses the versatile tropical plant with its striking, deep purple leaves in borders, either as a backdrop for foliage in burgundy and bright green, or as a focal point among a softer palette of greens.

For a border near a spa in Woodside, Levine paired purple morning glory flowers with the 2-foot-long, heart-shaped leaves of 'Black Magic'.

Elephant's ear is easy to grow and quick to get established. Keep the soil moist, apply a mild dose of fertilizer every two weeks or so, and protect leaves from snails (an iron phospate bait works well). Leave tubers in the ground over winter in Sunset climate zones 12 and 16-24 (apply a heavy mulch in zones 14 and 15). In colder zones, dig and store tubers after the foliage is killed by frost.

DESIGN: Mark David Levine Design Group, Encino (818/793-6000)

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