Close your eyes and say “Victorian garden” aloud. Is it a romantic image of rambling roses and sweet-faced pansies you see? Perhaps a potted fern or a tussie mussie brimming with violets? Now, what of pampas grass, castor beans and banana plants? Hmm… I thought not.
Victorians loved the bold, the big and the dramatic in their gardens. The invention of the portable greenhouse, called the Edwardian case, had increased the palette of plant possibilities by the mid 1800’s and specimens from Australia, South America, and Africa became readily available. Victorians went wild for the exotics.
If you, too, are moved by a strong desire for an exotic; one blessed with more than the generally allotted share of presence and vintage style, I cry out to you, “Brugmansia!”
Brugmansia was discovered in South America by Alexander Von Humboldt and Aime Bonpland in the early 1800’s. All five species belong to the nightshade family. Narcotic and hallucinogenic compounds make all parts of Brugmansia extremely poisonous to human beings.
More commonly known at Angel Trumpet, this alluring plant has absolutely everything drama loving gardeners, past or present, could possibly wish for. It is hauntingly beautiful with generous quantities of pendulous, fleshy bell-shaped flowers reaching twenty inches in length. The blooms are especially fragrant in the evening hours and even more so during a full moon.
It is perfection as a specimen planting or when mingling with other plants in your landscape. Happy in full sun or partial shade, it will stretch four to six feet in one summer. And, while it’s a tropical, Angel Trumpets can survive farther north. The leaves may well drop in a cold snap and the stems will freeze at temperatures below 27°, but new growth can be counted upon in spring.
Do you not wish to leave such things to chance? In that case, put your Angel Trumpet in a large container that can be moved inside during the winter months.
It can be difficult to grow from seed and, truly, will tax the most patient of gardeners, but it is easily grown from cuttings and is a treasure to receive. Begin new plants by taking a 4-6″ cutting from mature growth with “nubbies” and little white spots clearly visible. Cut above a Y where new branches would form and remove all but the smallest leaves. Put the cutting in a glass container filled with regular room temperature water.
Once rooted, plant in a 2-4″ pot and place in dappled shade, only fertilizing once you see definite signs of new growth. By the end of the second week, your Angel Trumpet should be ready for more direct light and by four to five weeks ready to transplant into your garden or a 1-3 gallon container. Fertilize twice a week during spring and summer, remembering that this is a plant loving its nitrogen. If wintering inside, cut back to two feet, forego fertilizing and water lightly only when needed.
While Victorian gardeners were very fond of the ghostly white blooms of B Suaveolans, the following cultivars would surely have pleased them and will likely please you too!
– Charles Grimaldi: medium-sized with flowers opening lemon yellow and maturing to deep pumpkin
– Jean Pasco: One of the largest flowering cultivars with pale pink blooms up to 12″ across.
– Insignis Pink: A vigorous grower with light pink apple blossoms.
– Dr. Seuss: If you’re only going to have one, this might be your choice – a heavy and extremely fragrant bloomer. The huge yellow blooms mature to pale orange sherbet.
If your interest is piqued, look for the book Brugmansias and Daturas, by Ulrike Preissel, or visit AmericanBrugmansia-DaturaSociety.org to learn more. You’re now ready to leap into the world of Brugmansia’s!