What could be better than a giant pot stuffed to overflowing with nicotiana? OK, probably plenty of things, but no doubt I am a big fan of the nicotianas. There are a number of ornamental tobaccos suitable for cultivation in our area. The species nicotiana alata pictured above grows strongly to 30″ or better. It has a loose, rangy, and unstructured habit of growth. Sporting clusters of big leaves at the base, the flowers appear all along thin soft stems. They are indeterminate bloomers; a stalk will continue to elongate and produce flowers for months. Once a stalk blooms out, and starts setting seed, I trim it back.
The species nicotiana alata is very fragrant in the evening, but my favorite part is the simple star shaped flowers. Individually, they have the same impact common to any simple flower. I favor hellebores, single roses such as Sally Holmes, mandevilleas and Japaense anemones for this reason. Single flowers are swell. The individual florets make a graceful mass; I like the looks of the from the sides and the back, as much as from the front. In the box pictured above, Nicotiana Alata white, Nicotiana alata lime, and Nicotiana Perfume white-the shortest of the group.
Nicotiana alata lime is a brilliant lime. The petals are thin eough to permit light to shine through. Their color makes every other color look good, and they are equally as effective if a combination of greens is your idea of beautiful. I always have them close by my deck, as hummingbirds visit regularly. I would much rather grow nicotianas and fuchsias, than deal with a hummingbird feeder.
A pairing with Panicum Virgatum Dallas Blues makes that grass all the more icy blue in appearance. Grasses can be difficult to do well in a container, as they are stiff, or awkwardly floppy. Nicotiana makes for a graceful ruff here. They are not without their problems, however. The sticky soft succulent stems are a magnet for aphids. Their giant basil leaves sometimes need pruning back when they threaten to smother something else growing at ground level.
Some nicotiana hybrids are short, stodgy and airless in appearance; I do not grow the Avalon series for this reason. Of all the shorter growing hybrids, the Perfume series seems the most graceful. Perfume purple is a most unusual and intense red purple; true to its name, the smell is divine.
But by far and away my favorite is Nicotiana Mutabilis. It grows tall, and billows out over any edge with a cloud of small flowers that dance in the slightest breeze. Can you tell I like it? The flowers range from white to cream to pale pink to rose pink. This big thing requires secure staking from the beginning. It will pick up speed, and send out new growth from the base of the plant as the night temperatures start to cool.
They are a nuisance to keep deadheaded-I don’t fuss so much with that. Its hard to spot which stems need headling back, and every part of the plant is sticky. This seems a fairly minor problem to me; a well grow stand of mutabilis is enchanting.
You can see the new growth pushing from the base of this pot on both sides; all of this came on strong in September, and will continue until a hard freeze. They also seem much more aphid-resistant than other nicotianas.
The individual flowers are so small and so delicate; the overall picture is delightfully meadow like. All of these nicotianas are a staple of my summer garden.