Tag Archive: fragrance

Planter with various kinds of Nicotiana (Tobacco plant) among others

Planter with various kinds of Nicotiana (Tobacco plant)

'Zephirin Drouhin' looking good this year on a tunnel at Old School Garden

‘Zephirin Drouhin’ looking good this year on a tunnel at Old School Garden

Roses nodding round the front door or along a pergola or trellis make even the plainest house look pretty, but the thorns on stray shoots can scratch people as they go in and out. Combine beauty with safety by choosing a thornless rose like ‘Zephirin Drouhin’; it is a rich pink, perpetual flowering and heavily scented- and has thornless stems.

A lovely rose, and thornless, too

A lovely rose, and thornless, too

Old School Gardener

PicPost: Smell the air


The tobacco plant - Nicotiana tabacum

The tobacco plant – Nicotiana tabacum

Nicotiana is a wonderful garden plant, its highly scented flowers providing a heady scent on warm summer evenings. I grew a large group of N. sylvestris one year which provided both an eye – catching feature and intoxicating fragrance for my younger daughter’s wedding celebration – truly memorable.

I guess ‘intoxicating’ is the right term as the tobacco plant is one of the most important plant discoveries in history, albeit one whose chief product we have come to understand and increasingly reject as a major cause of disease.

Fortunately though, the ‘baby hasn’t been thrown out with the bath water’ and we can still appreciate it as a garden plant, and its one which I grow each year and place in groups around Old School Garden as well as along the main entrance path at Gressenhall Museum where I volunteer.

Indigenous to the Americas, Australia, south west Africa and the South Pacific, there are various Nicotiana species, all commonly referred to as ‘tobacco plants’, though it is N. tabacum that is still grown worldwide for production of tobacco leaf for cigarettes etc. Nicotiana can be annuals, biennials, perennials or shrubs – some 70 species are grown as ornamentals.

Nicotiana sylvestris

Nicotiana sylvestris

N. sylvestris is a stately plant which looks well at the back of a lightly shaded or sunny border, or grown in bold groups. It’s flower heads seem to explode like a graceful firework. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM). There are many variations in size, colour and fragrance between the species and hybrids. Older heirloom species are often identified by their genus and species name.

Nicotiana alata - photo Carl E. Lewis

Nicotiana alata – photo Carl E. Lewis

Its genus name, designated by Linnaeus in 1753, recognizes Frenchman Jean Nicot, ambassador to Portugal from 1559-1561 who brought powdered tobacco to France to cure the Queen’s son of migraine headaches. Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566) coined the name ‘Nicotiana’. However, Nicot’s credit as the first to bring the plant to Europe is wrong as it was known in the Low Countries after being brought there by Spanish merchants in the 1540s.  Knowledge of the plant by Europeans dates from 1492 when Columbus’s sailors saw it being smoked in Cuba and Haiti.


Many of the species names refer to a characteristic of the plant. Nicotiana alata gets its species name from the Latin word meaning winged, referring to its winged petioles (the stalks attaching the leaf blades to the stem). N. sylvestris, from the Latin sylva, meaning of the forest or woodland, possibly refers to its native habitat. N. langsdorffii was named after G. I. Langsdorf, the Russian Consul in Rio de Janeiro who organized an expedition to explore the inner regions of Brazil in the 1820’s.

Other varieties include:

N. affinis = related to, probably N. alata (= ‘winged’), some use it as a synonym. The ‘Night Scented Tobacco Plant’

N. x sanderae = ‘Sander’s Tobacco’, a group to which most of the newer hybrids belong

N. suaveolens = sweet smelling

Nicotiana can be used as specimen or bedding plants, in borders, woodland gardens or containers. Heights range from less than 1 foot to over 10 feet. They are long-blooming, attractive plants with trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of green, white, red, and pastels. Some species have attractive foliage. They are fairly easy to grow from seed. Contact with the hairy foliage may irritate the skin.

This year I’m growing  N. sylvestris in a border along with Verbena bonariensis and Ammi majus – a new combination for me and I’ll show you the results later in the summer!

Nicotiana x sanderae hybrids

Nicotiana x sanderae hybrids

Sources and further information:


Growing Nicotiana (USA)

RHS Plant finder

The Poison Garden

Fine Gardening- plant guide

Nicotiana alata ‘Grandiflora’ is the most highly scented tobacco plant you can grow. It has delicate creamy-white flowers which are delicate in bright sunlight, so best planted with a little shade.Nicotiana are a great family of very long-flowering half hardy annuals, many of them with lovely evening and night scent. Nicotiana are moth pollinated, so pour out the fragrance when the moths are around.- See more at: http://www.sarahraven.com/shop/nicotiana-alata-grandiflora.html#sthash.FvJ4Z0Kg.dpuf
Nicotiana alata ‘Grandiflora’ is the most highly scented tobacco plant you can grow. It has delicate creamy-white flowers which are delicate in bright sunlight, so best planted with a little shade.Nicotiana are a great family of very long-flowering half hardy annuals, many of them with lovely evening and night scent. Nicotiana are moth pollinated, so pour out the fragrance when the moths are around.- See more at: http://www.sarahraven.com/shop/nicotiana-alata-grandiflora.html#sthash.FvJ4Z0Kg.dpuf

Quizzicals: answers to the two clues given in Plantax 11…

  • Where policemen spend their holidays- Copper Beech
  • Feline relative – Catkin

..and 2 more cryptic clues to the names of plants, fruit or veg…

  • Place in Oxfordshire painted a gaudy colour
  • Tie up skinny coward

Special thanks to Les Palmer, whose new book ‘How to Win your Pub Quiz’ was published recently. A great celebration of the British Pub Quiz!

Old School Gardener

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sweet-pea-flowerThe ‘Queen of Annuals’ is being billed as the cottage garden favourite for 2013′.

It’s botanical name- Lathyrus odoratus- comes from an ancient greek word (Lathyrus) meaning  pea or vetchling and odoratus meaning ‘fragrant’. The genus Lathyrus contains about 160 species and of the many cultivars of the Sweet Pea, some 52 varieties have been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit.  The many varieties of Sweet pea available today come in a wide range of colours, but not yellow!



“The Sweet Pea has a keel that was meant to seek all shores; it has wings that were meant to fly across all continents; it has a standard which is friendly to all nations; and it has a fragrance like the universal gospel, yea, a sweet prophecy of welcome everywhere that has been abundantly fulfilled” – Rev. W. T. Hutchins 1900

Sweet pea cultivation is thought to have begun in the 17th century. The originator of the modern plant naming system, the swedish botanist Linnaeus, carried on using the genus name Lathyrus, which was in common use in the 18th century, but gave the Sweet pea it’s species name odoratus to codify the various names used for it at the time.

sweet-pea-flowers-7Victorian times saw a craze for the plant and a host of new cultivars were created as a result, many beginning their lives as mutations or ‘sports’ of known varieties. The original dwarf sweet pea was found growing in a row of a popular grandiflora variety in California  in the late 19th century. It had similar flowers to its parent but was much shorter and with a spreading habit. Given the name ‘Cupid’, this later became the general name used for dwarf sweet peas. Later crossings of these and other grandifloras produced a wide range of ‘cupids’ and later still these were crossed with the newer ‘Spencer’ sweet peas which resulted in a range of ‘cupids’ with larger flowers.

The large-flowered Spencer sweet pea appears to have arisen in two or three places at around the same time, but perhaps the most famous source was the home of the Spencer family (of Lady Diana fame) in Northamptonshire. The head gardener of Althorp HouseSilas Cole – named this ‘Countess Spencer’, though he seems at the time to have claimed it arose from deliberate cross breeding rather than as an accident of nature!

Sweet peas can be grown in different ways, but perhaps the most common technique is the cordon, introduced in 1911 by Tom Jones of Ruabon. This is used to produce flowers of the highest quality and in effect is a form of pruning and training which channels the plant’s energies into a smaller number of larger blooms. This process involves:

  • The top of a young seedling being pinched out once it has produced several true leaves, which encourages branching
  • One of the resulting side shoots (a strong one emerging near the base of the plant) is retained, and the others removed before they develop
  • The remaining stem is allowed to grow and is tied in, but all of its side shoots are removed as they form, as are any tendrils to prevent them fastening onto the flower stems
  • The fewer flower stems produce larger blooms and once finished these flowers are removed to encourage new ones to form.

Several plants can be grown in this way along a row to produce a sweet pea screen.

Fresh sweet pea flowers in the house have been shown to improve general wellbeing, boost both male and female libido, and lessen the effects of a hangover! However, the seeds of some species of Lathyrus contain a toxic amino acid which if eaten in large quantities can cause the serious disease Lathyrism.


Sources and further information:



Sweet Pea Flower pictures

Quizzicals: two more cryptic clues to plants, fruit or veg:

  • Has had too much already
  • A country full of automobiles

Old School Gardener

IMG_5170As I sit and look out of my window this cold January day, the snow has started to fall once more- looks like the heaviest fall will be later today. So the firewood has been stacked and fortunately the week’s shopping was done yesterday…

At this time of year you could be forgiven for thinking there’s not much of interest in the garden. We tend to focus on the other seasons when we think about (or impulse-buy) plants. The weather itself isn’t exactly encouraging us to visit the nursery or garden centre. And anyway, they seem to be rather  forlorn places at this time of year, especially the bigger ones that have ‘diversified’ into Christmas tat- the shelves are either emptying to make way for spring gardening stock or they’re full of half price Christmas cards and tinsel…

Well, we should perhaps think about how our garden looks in every part of the year, especially the important views into it from the house, road etc. In the winter, it’s these views that count, as it’ s less likely you’ll want to venture into the wet or cold garden itself.

The choices are significant – yes you can have:

  • beautiful flowers
  • powerful fragrance
  • colourful fruit
  • vibrant stems
  • interesting bark
  • strong  form
  • fascinating  foliage

Here are seven examples of the sorts of plants that can be a winter wonder in your garden.

Dogwoods provide wonderful winter stem colour

Dogwoods provide wonderful winter stem colour

1. Dogwoods (Cornus species)- vibrant stem colours make this a winner especially where you can group several plants together and maybe combine them for subtle effects (try C. alba ‘Sibirica’ (red) surrounded with C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’– amber- orangey red). Prune the stems back to the base of the plants in spring or leave one or two stems to grow taller and then pollard it for extra height (prune ‘Midwinter Fire’ less)- you will also get some lovely autumn leaf colour.

Witch Hazels- magical spidery flowers

Witch Hazels- magical spidery flowers

2. Witch Hazel (Hamamelis in many different varieties)- beautiful spidery-like flowers are magical in woodland edges. Grow as specimens or focal points under trees or in open ground – will grow about 2 metres high and wide over time.

Crab apple 'Red Sentinel'- plum-sized fruits that birds seem to avoid

Crab apple ‘Red Sentinel’- plum-sized fruits that birds seem to avoid

3. Crab apple (Malus species and cultivars – but not the ‘orchard’ apple Malus x domestica)- some of these smallish trees are suitable for smaller gardens with their columnar growth – e.g. M. tschnoskii (which can grow to 12 metres high but only 7 metres across). The main reason for growing them, in my view, is their fruit. Plum – sized apples which seem to be just the right size to not interest birds, so you’ll hopefully be left with a great show throughout winter. I particularly like M. x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’ (can grow to 7 metres high and wide). And Crab apples give great spring flowers and autumn colour too.

Mahonia x media- black fruits follow the flowers

Mahonia x media- black fruits follow the flowers

4. Oregon Grape (Mahonia species and some cultivars)- this is a winner on several counts, but mainly through its winter flowers and foliage. It’s evergreen  leaves (some spiky) will burnish orangey-red if exposed to the sun. My favourite is the hybrid M. x media ‘Charity’ which is an erect evergreen shrub with sharply toothed leaves and dense yellow flowers that cascade from the stems. One ideally for part shade, so a woodland edge is perfect.

Viburnum x bodnantense- wonderful scented flowers

Viburnum x bodnantense- wonderful scented flowers

5. Viburnum x  bodnantense ‘Dawn’ there are many different Viburnums, and they make a wonderful addition to the garden for their flowers, fragrance and foliage at different times of the year. This one is a hybrid and is chiefly grown for its wonderful scented flowers which grace the medium-sized deciduous shrub through winter on bare stems.

Box- small leaves make it ideal for strong  topiary shapes

Box- small leaves make it ideal for strong topiary shapes

6. Box (Buxus sempervirens or if you want a slower growing, more compact form go for the variety ‘Suffruticosa’)- one of the great plants for shaping into strong forms that help to carry your garden’s structure through the winter months. Also, don’t forget that some perennials will add form and structure to your garden through their dead stems and shapes. For Box start growing small and gradually develop your desired form, or buy (at some expense) some of the ‘ready- to – rock’  topiary at nurseries and garden centres. There are some wonderful examples of historic topiary in Britain such as Levens Hall, Cumbria.


Paper-bark Maple- bark peels into subtle tones

7. Paper bark Maple  (Acer griseum)- a fantastic, slow growing tree which can reach 10 metres high and broad. Like most Acers it gives great autumn leaf colour, but it’s main attraction is the peeling bark which looks especially magical with low winter sun shining through it.

Further information;

Guardian online

Winter containers

Winter vegetables


answers to the last two-

  • Our monarch continues to work hard – Busy Lizzie
  • Nasty spot causing urination problems – Bladderwort

A couple of gardening ditties:

‘Whose sorrel now?’

‘Don’t leaf me this way’

(thanks again to buddie Les for these)

Old School Gardener

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