Friday, September 30, 2011

In Praise of Big Tobacco........

"Big Tobacco" is a term often used to describe the "big 3" tobacco companies, however,from our garden's point of view this year, the "big 3" tobaccos are three species of Nicotiana all of which grow well over a meter in height. The three are working from the tallest down, pink flowered Nicotiana tabacum, white flowered N. sylvestris and yellow-green flowered N. langsdorfii. This year we grew all three from seed and used them liberally in the garden.
Big Tobaccos have a couple of attributes that make them useful in our garden. Foremost they are hardly ever touched by the deer or rabbits. Secondly they are vigourous growers and seem to thrive in our garden coditions. Thirdly, they are all heavily used by hummingbirds.
The largest is N. tabacccum, the "pink flowered strain" we grew from seeds purchased from a UK seed supplier. Planted out in early June, the plants have shot up to 2 or 3 meters in height, topped with pink trumpet shaped flowers. Of the three, this is the species most preferred by the hummingbirds. It was also the latest flowering of the three species, not flowering here this year until the last week of August and only just peaking in bloom now. An earlier seed sowing may be in order next year.
The most commonly grown of the three is the white flowered N. sylvestris, a big leaved plant with nodding white flowers that are heavily scented in the evening.. Its a very easy species to grow, handling bright sun and semishade equally well. We find it particularly useful in planting in front of the Brugmansia pots to disguise them completely.
Surprizingly, the showiest of the three species is the smaller and green flowered species Nicotiana langsdorfii. We have used this species in tubs, plants and tucked in gaps in the perennials beds, in both sun and shade. It is at its most impressive however where 6 or 10 or more are planted together where it forms an impressive display of a curtain of chartreuse bells-particuarly effective in a bobbing and swaying in a breeze. In the plants, I like the effect when combined with purples, most effecitvely in one planter on the pondock deck where it is combined with Salvia buchaninii and the flowers are displayed well against the huge fuzzy purple leaves of Solanum quitoense.

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