Calathea belong to the Marantaceae plant family and there are some beautiful species and cultivars with various patterns and colours on the leaves, reminiscent of gorgeously patterned feathers in some cases. Some are a bit marginal in Sydney, preferring a warmer climate than ours; but velvety Calathea zebrina (ht 60-90 cm) with its striking stripy leaves does reasonably well and I have also had success with what may be Calathea lancifolia (pictured above, ht 40 cm) with decorative slim leaves with dark markings. It can be grown in a pot or garden bed. Both these species come from Brazil. I like to partner my Calathea with dark-leaved plants to echo its markings. In the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, it is used in combination with other members of the Marantaceae family as massed groundcover under a large tree, and it looks fabulous. They also look good in pots.
One which always elicits comments from garden visitors does seem to be a Calathea lancifolia (syn. Calathea insignia, pictured at left). This one is quite outstanding, with purple undersides to its elegant long leaves, the top bright green sides of which look as if they have been adorned by someone painting a picture of a leaf frond with two shades of dark green! Like all Calathea, it thrives in dry shade, steadily making a sizable clump. Propagation is by division of the rhizomatous roots.