By Sean Conway
The long, creamy-orange flowers of the Brugmansia shrub, also known as Angel's Trumpet, release an intoxicating scent on summer evenings.
For many who work inside all day, some of the best opportunities to savor summer are warm evenings outdoors unwinding on the patio or deck. If this describes your lifestyle, why not consider growing some night-blooming plants to liven up that setting?
Byron Martin of the venerable Logee's Greenhouses in Danielson, Conn., recently visited my television show, "Cultivating Life," to show me some of the best night-blooming plants to grow in containers. Logee's specializes in tropical patio plants, and Byron pointed out that many night bloomers not only have beautiful flowers but also the bonus of being fragrant. (The purpose of this trait in nature is to attract night-flying pollinators such as moths and bats.)
One of the more exotic plants Byron brought with him was called Brugmansia, also known as Angel's Trumpet. The medium-size shrubby plant Byron showed me had a woody stem and stood about four feet off the ground, with multiple branches and long, medium-green and rather nondescript leaves. As a leafy shrub, Brugmansia is not much to look at. But the flowers -- WOW! What flowers! They were long, trumpet-shaped and flared out at the ends with points that formed pleats. The flower color at first glance looked light orange, but upon closer inspection was actually the color of the inside of a cantaloupe melon -- or a creamsicle: a creamy, milky orange. They glowed in the afternoon sun.
The flowers smelled nice, but faint. Since Byron had touted Brugmansia as a good choice for fragrance, I asked why the scent wasn't stronger. He pinched off a few flowers and instructed me to put them in water and smell them again in the evening.
I followed his instructions, and later that evening I was glad I did. The scent was intoxicating. It was perfume-like, but not overpowering, and filled the whole room. Byron pointed out that Brugmansias love summer heat and are wonderful patio plants for people who work during the day and enjoy their time outdoors in the evening. (It's worth noting for those with small children and pets, however, that this plant is highly toxic when eaten.)
Brugmansias are very easy to grow, enjoying a moist, well-drained average potting soil, a good balanced water-soluble fertilizer about every 10 days to two weeks, and a warm, sunny location.
Being tropical, they don't like the cold, but can easily be brought inside once fall arrives. Many northern gardeners store them in cool basements at about 45 degrees and little or no light. They will remain dormant until the following spring, when they will begin to produce new leaves and a whole new crop of flowers once the temperatures become warmer and the days lengthen.
Don't let something as trivial as a demanding day job deny you the pleasures of gardening this summer. Visit a local greenhouse and see what they have in the way of night-blooming plants to adorn and perfume your favorite after-dusk perch. You'll wonder why you waited so long.
© Sean Conway