Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Tina James' Evening Primrose

 

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Flat and bright yellow, flowers of 'Tina James' evening primrose are as big as my palm. Only on a cloudy morning do they stay open long into the day. After opening in early evening, they remain open through the night and, usually, close the next day by the time you've finished your mid-morning coffee.

 

 

The real thrill, however, is not the flowers' size, coloring, or nocturnal habit. It's their astonishing speed of opening: Before your eyes, as if each bud were part of a too-jerky, too-quick-to-be-real music box mechanism. 'Tina' is one plant for whom the word "performance" is taken literally.

 

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At first glance, the flowers couldn't be simpler: Four broad petals surrounding the group of stamens. Since the flowers open nearly "at Warp Factor One," and last only until morning, the pollen must ripen with unusual speed, too. The four-pronged pistil, like a mountaineer's grappling hook, is the one oddity visible to human eye; see "Quirks," below, for details of what is probably a much more complex and busy show that is visible to some insects.

 

 

In the picture below, an adjacent bud is partially furled. Most likely, it is in the process of closing. In the last morning hours of the flower's cycle, the petals refurl to a cone that provides increasingly cramped quarters for pollen-hungry bees. They won't be able to reach the stamens—or back out of the flower afterwards—without first muscling by the four-armed pistil. From either direction, pollination would seem to be unavoidable.

 

 

 

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Oenothera glazioviana 'Tina James' is one of the rare plants that are, at once, supremely garden-worthy and yet of no redeeming interest apart from their flowers. The plant's narrow pointed foliage, numerous upright stems, broad space-hogging habit, unusually fast growth, and prolific flowering—and, therefore, reseeding—would normally be the "talents" only of rude weeds.  But any weed with flowers such as these, that put on a nightly show for weeks, is a weed no garden should be without.

 

 

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Here's how to grow this star-of-the-evening biennial:

 

 

Latin Name

Oenothera glazioviana 'Tina James'

Common Name

Tina James evening primrose

Family

Onagraceae, the Fuchsia family.

What kind of plant is it?

Herbaceous biennial.

Hardiness

Zones 3 - 9.

Habit

The first year, a boring, flat, green rosette of leaves. The second year, quickly-branching and nearly shrubby vertical stems erupt, creating a thick and spiky mound of growth.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in two years

First-year rosettes are about a foot across but half that high. Second-year growth can "shrub up and out" to four or even five feet.

Texture

Coarse, but in the dark, with the flowers open, who cares?

Grown for

its theatricality: For many weeks in Summer, buds as slim as candy cigarettes spring open with startling speed, progressing from "full furl" to flat-open flower in under a minute. At first, just a few buds join in, but as evening slides to dark, the rest of the quotidian crop throng the night stage. They remain open only through morning, but another crop will debut that evening. Depending on the size of an individual plant, as well as the number of plants in a group of them, several score flowers could open each night.  

Flowering season

Summer: Late June into August.    

Color combinations

The butter-yellow flowers are open only from night through to morning. Unless it's a priority how they coordinate with the rest of the garden from dawn to ten AM, you need only plan on integrating the flowers into a nocturnal display, when little else than shades of white or yellow will be visible. My photographs were on a cloudy morning, when the bright yellow flowers were in perfect harmony with the bright yellow foliage of the 'Gold Shadow' mulberry in the background. 

Plant Partners

To extend the bright excitement of 'Tina James' into its surrounding plantings, combine with plants with white or light-hued flowers in Summer, or brightly-variegated foliage all season. Both will be prominent at night. Flowers of Nicotiana alata are comparatively small—a good contrast right there—and pure white, with a penetrating sweet fragrance. They, too, are open at night. The flowers of white-flowered Mirabilis jalapa 'Alba' are similar in size and coloring, although without the fragrance. Flowers that you know to be pollinated by bats and moths are always good choices, because they are typically nocturnal, so as to be able to welcome these night-active pollinators. What about Brugmansia, which is believed to be pollinated by moths? It has forms with white or pale-yellow flowers, of too-huge-to-believe dimensions that are thrilling in themselves. If you're lucky as well as diligent, you can grow a specimen that's big enough to be a tree-like presence behind your 'Tina'. 

 

 

Excitement from flowers comes with its own limitation in textures. Regardless of whether you contrast 'Tina' with the impatiens-sized flowers off four o'clocks or the pendulous eighteen-inch horns of angel's trumpets, you're still working with individual elements, displayed one by one. For a contrast in category, not just in characteristics, find room for some strongly-variegated foliage, preferably long and thin. I look forward to introducing my 'Tina James' to a pot or two of Dianella, preferably the cultivar 'Yellow Stripe', whose variegation, softer than the white of 'Variegata', scores more points, even so, because it harmonizes so well with Tina's yellow flowers each morning. Variegated spider plants would work, too. If you have enough room at the back of your 'Tina', you could try one of the more obstreperously variegated cultivars of Miscanthus sinensis, such as 'Cosmopolitan.' Or, favoring the subtler relationship that yellow variegation brings, M. sinensis 'Gold Bar'. If your bed is huge, back Tina with Miscanthus giganteus 'Gilded Tower', which can soar to ten feet.  

 

 

Alas, one of the usual solutions for increasing textural contrast—ferns—would be nearly useless. There are none with truly bright variegation, and when their feathery fronds are just green, they become invisible by nightfall.

Where to use it in your garden

Siting 'Tina James' is tricky. As plants enter their blooming phase they look more and more weedy, and your priority for the best daytime look would be to grow plenty of shorter things in front to hide them. But when evening comes and the flowers open, you'll want to have them close at hand—literally—so you can experience the buds' startlingly swift unfurling. The ideal location would be somewhere you can choose to visit only from dusk into the night, not during the day. Or—what I do—train yourself to ignore the lousy daytime visuals by contemplating the scintillating nighttime performance. I grow 'Tina James' in a bed that abuts the main terrace, where we host some lunches but, far more often, dinners. Lunch guests get an apology about 'Tina James'; dinner guests have been known to drop out of a raging conversation, without thinking let alone apology, to get up and marvel at Tina's show.

Culture

Full sun and almost any soil with reasonable drainage in Winter.

How to handle it: The Basics.

Plant potted first-year rosettes in Spring or Summer, watering to ensure that they establish before hard frost in Fall. Because 'Tina James' is a cultivar, seeds from maturing flowers are unlikely to come true. Pull up flowering plants when they begin to decline.

 

Buy fresh seed yearly, scattering on the surface of any area that has been cleared of other growth, and then well-dug. Be alert for the seedlings and, if necessary, thin so that each rosette has about a foot of clearance all around. 

How to handle: Another option—or two!

If you want 'Tina James' in flower each season, you'll need to establish new plantings each year. That way, one generation will still be rosettes while the next is shrubby and flowering. Seeds are available on-line, so buy them fresh two years in a row. If you're lucky enough to have 'Tina' already thriving in one of its two-year cycles, you need only plant seeds in the off-year, when your established plants are just rosettes. When your rosettes are flowering in their second year, your new seedlings will be doing their "rosette" year, to flower the next.

 

 

I'm not aware that it's possible to extend the life of a rosette into another year by removing the flowering stalk when it first appears, as is reputed to work if you're trying to get another year out of the thrilling silvery rosettes of your Scots thistles. It might be possible to sow seed in the Spring, and so have that first season be the entire rosette year, and the second the flowering year. But you'll still have to plant seed every Spring—before your own plants could bloom and provide it—to keep this compressed life cycle going.

Quirks and special cases

Oenothera flowers appear to be solid yellow, but that's only because we can usually see them interact only with the light in the spectrum of wavelengths visible to us. Ultraviolet light—which is perceived by some insects—reveals in some species intense flares of darker pigment beginning at the base of the petals, and extending outward through most of the petal via dramatic hair-thin lines. These markings are very similar to those, visible in daylight, of many hibiscus flowers. I haven't been able to confirm if flowers of O. glazioviana have this talent, although you can see the hair-thin lines, of the slightest darker yellow (at least in visible light). A brighter performance under ultraviolet light would seem likely—and the purchase of an ultraviolet-emitting "party" light just to shine it on 'Tina James' would be well worth the expense.

Downsides

In the light of day, 'Tina James' is weedy, looking like nothing so much as its small-flowered cousin Oenothera biennis. Those monsters can soar to eight feet, but when their miserably small flowers open, you realize that the joke's on the gardener who didn't know to yank first and ask questions later. The foliage and form are similar to those of O. glazioviana; to my eye, there's no way to tell the two apart until flowering begins. Even though O. biennis could be much taller, don't decide based on height alone: Your 'Tina James' might just be fabulously stemmy, or your O. biennis stunted and shrubby. The only solution I see is to pull up plants of O. biennis as soon as they begin flowering. If no flowers can mature to seeds, there won't be a follow-on generation. And so it will be all the more likely that any coarse weedy Oenothera you have will be 'Tina James'.

Variants

The furled sepals of the buds of the straight species of Oenothera glazioviana are reddish, hence one of its common names, red-sepal evening primrose. Its flowers open fairly quickly, but not nearly as quickly as those of 'Tina James'.

Availability

On-line by seed and, with extreme rarity, at retailers as first-year plants.

Propagation

By seed.

Native habitat

All Oenothera species are new-world natives. A more specific location of origin for O. glazioviana isn't known. Tina James first identified her eponymous cultivar in the mid-1970s, at a farm in Westminster, Maryland.

 
 
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