Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra
Back on February 10th, Steve Silk announced that the Gardening Gone Wild Plant Pick of the Month was nicotianas (flowering tobaccos). In the spirit of waiting until nearly the last minute to take part, I’m finally getting around to thinking about some of my favorites.
I have to admit that I’m envious of Steve’s ability to grow woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris). Judging by his photos of it in others’ gardens, as well as the comments from Adam, Fran, and other bloggers, he’s not alone. It’s one of those plants that just doesn’t want to do well for me: it either sulks and dies, or it gets aphids, sulks, and then dies. Elizabeth’s comment there about it being a “bug magnet, and not in a good way” makes me feel a little better; at least it’s not just me. I’m going to try direct-sowing it this year, following Steve’s tips, and maybe the plants will be big enough to tolerate the aphids and still reach blooming size.
One nicotiana I do have luck with is a green-flowered form that showed up in my old garden years ago. I was in a wow-aren’t-green-flowers-cool phase and planted both ‘Lime Green’ and N. langsdorffii near each other. The following year’s volunteers had the intense green color of the latter but the larger flower size of the former, with bloom shapes somewhere between the two. I thought they were neat and donated the seed to the HPS/MAG Seed Exchange program that year as “Green Mix”, for want of a better name. Then the next year, someone donated it back as ‘Ondra’s Green Mix’, and it seems to be keeping that name from year to year. When I moved to this place, I lost my stock, but fortunately I was able to get the strain back through the exchange.
I don’t bother starting the plants indoors, because they self-sow readily and make much better combinations than I could ever come with on purpose. They usually reach 24 to 30 inches, sometimes 3 feet.
A few years ago, I picked up a six-pack of ‘Tinkerbell’ seedlings to use as fillers. Tink’s blooms were rosy pink to brownish pink inside and mostly green on the outside, and the plants were rather taller – in the range of 3 to 4 feet.
The following season, a volunteer that appeared on the opposite side of the path topped out at nearly 7 feet.
Other seedlings in that part of the garden looked more like my original strain size-wise, but instead of the consistent green color, some of the seedlings had green blooms and some had brown ones (shown close up in the photo at the top of this post).
I ended up donating that seed last fall as “Mint Chocolate Mix”. Fortunately, volunteers in more-distant beds stayed consistently green, so I’m hoping I still have the original strain as well.
Another tobacco I’ve enjoyed for a few years now is N. mutabilis. I originally acquired it as ‘Marshmallow’, but I think that’s one of those made-up cutesy names and not any distinct strain. The plants consistently reach about 4 feet for me, with an open branching habit and white flowers that quickly turn light pink, and then rich pink if the weather isn’t too hot.
I’m not a big fan of pink, but the whole effect is pretty charming. It’s a dependable self-sower, too, which is a plus. Come to think of it, I bet it would look awesome with the all-green strain. And I’d love to see what might happen if those two crossed.