Beginning with Brugmansias

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I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated with myself for posting so infrequently. Okay, so I no longer have a long commute to London and I can’t wait to get out from behind my laptop at the end of each working day, but surely there must be time to draft a post or two? Seemingly not. Then it came to me in a flash during my first post-lockdown haircut: I’ve been setting myself up for failure. My posts have been getting longer and more ambitious, to the extent that they now need a day or two to complete. I simply don’t have that amount of free time. The prospect of summarising a month in one go is so daunting that ultimately I have shied away from doing so. That’s not good. Hence I am going back to where I began with short, off-the-cuff posts, illustrated with decent pictures, that I can complete in a couple of hours. It works for me and I hope it works for you too.

My very first brugmansia, purchased in 2017 and growing stronger each year.

As you might imagine, plants have been flooding through The Watch House’s gates at the fastest rate ever. A tsunami would be a more accurate description of the flow. A glass of wine in one hand and a mobile device in the other is a recipe for shopping and I have not been found wanting in the impulse department.

At one time I owned just a single brugmansia (datura in old money, angel’s trumpet in common parlance), a sorry plant which I rescued from my local garden centre. It had been left for dead by the petunia-buying public: I generally have eye for plants other folk overlook. I didn’t really know what the plant required so it was consigned to the greenhouse where it produced a few enormous coral-pink blooms that were quickly mutilated by snails. Despite my ignorance, my first brugmansia survives to this day, which says something about how easy they are to grow provided a few key needs are met.

Brugmansia ‘Sunset’. Creamy-white flowers should follow later in the summer. For now that glorious foliage will more than suffice.

The Beau bought with him multiple specimens of Brugmansia x candida ‘Grand Marnier’, an old faithful, which looked to me like chubby sticks with a handful of anemic leaves sprouting from the top. They were shoved in the back passage for the summer and not a single one flowered. Then we spotted a variegated shoot at the bottom of one of the chubby sticks which The Beau recalled might be a cultivar named ‘Sunset’. We removed it, grew it on over winter indoors and then hardened it off in the greenhouse. Taking pity on the tiny shoot, I’ve meticuluously fed and repotted it until all of a sudden it has become a magnificent plant with enormous grey-green, ivory-edged leaves. Each one is the length of my forearm.

Brugmansia x candida ‘Super Spot’ (Photo Credit: Agnieszka Kwiecień, Nova, Wikimedia Commons)

Spurred on by my success with ‘Sunset’ and the rude health of last year’s ugly ducklings I turned to Jungle Plants to increase my collection. For starters I chose Brugmansia sanguinea and Brugmansia ‘Super Spot’. They arrived, beautifully packaged, a fortnight later. Happily B. sanguinea was already covered in buds (I feel like such a cheat!) so I potted it up pronto and positioned it by our outdoor kitchen sink on an upturned pot to keep it out of snails’ reach. Within days the first yellow trumpet had unfurled, blushing pale orange at the tip. The Beau reckoned the flowers should be much redder. Lo and behold, the next two blooms have had much stronger colouration. They are beautiful, mango and pineapple sorbet perfection. Although there’s no scent and I can’t claim to have grown it, I am chuffed to bits with my new Brugmansia sanguinea.

Brugmansia sanguinea

Anything from Jungle Plants tends to be a little pricey but worth every penny for the quality. It’s so true that you get what you pay for. Sadly Jungle Plants are not offering as many plants as they once did, but the seeds are always worth checking out. The instructions that accompanied my plants filled significant gaps in my knowledge. I did not know, for example, that brugmansias will not flower until their main stem has forked to form a ‘Y’ shape. I also didn’t know that organic pesticides containing pyrethrum will kill them. I’m glad I spotted that before I got trigger happy! I was aware that brugmansias were greedy feeders but not that I should feed them heavily, twice a week.

Brugmansia x candida ‘Grand Marnier’ forming the Y necessary for it to bloom

The results of copious amounts of liquid seaweed being applied are already clear to see. Those chubby, ugly, translucent-looking sticks are now vigorous plants covered with lush, felty leaves and promising flower buds. I wish I had known that it was so easy to turn my plants around. Unfortunately the incessant wind over the last fortnight, often laden with salt and sometimes sand where I live, has burned some of the larger and more exposed leaves, but this will be of little consequence since they grow back so quickly.

Epic brugmansias at East Ruston Old Vicarage in Norfolk (Photo Credit: Alan Gray)

Of course I am now considering where I might squeeze in another brugmansia or two and am imagining huge pots on the allotment with tree-like specimens like those at East Ruston Old Vicarage in Norfolk. What a dream that would be. Someone confiscate my credit card!

Naturally I would encourage anyone with a sheltered garden and an adventurous spirit to give brugmansias a try. Most enjoy our relatively cool summers, actually refusing to flower in hotter climes. They can be overwintered in a shed or garage without light until spring arrives, or kept going in a conservatory or greenhouse. However, it would be remiss of me not to point out that all brugmansias contain tropane alkaloids of similar toxicity to deadly nightshade, so they should be treated with caution and not eaten by adults, children or pets. I always wash my hands after touching my brugmansias, which doesn’t feel like such a chore when one is doing it every five minutes anyway.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this more pithy post. It’s been a breeze to write so I’ve definitely made the breakthrough I needed. See you soon. TFG.

The perfect angel’s trumpet, Brugmansia versicolor (Photo Credit: Tom Murphy VII, Wikimedia Commons)