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

Green-flowered Tobacco

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I never worry that I'll have this green-flowered tobacco in bloom by August.  It always seeds itself, gently but intrepidly.  For some years it's favored this crack in one of the bluestone walkways.  In Summer, I always put right along side the tobacco a galvanized tub with a water crinum in it.

 

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Despite gorgeous beds all around, Nicotiana langsdorffii is very happy to grow in this crack between bluestones.  With self-seeders—of which most tobaccos worth growing are charter members—it's best to follow their lead.  Plant them in great garden soil the first year, but each Spring thereafter, keep your eyes wide open for seedlings where the plant itself wants to grow.

 

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Who knows why, but for N. langsdorffii, this crack between bluestones is perfect.  It blooms for a couple of months and sets all the seed it can.  The seeds must wash down into the bluestone crack and stay safely out of reach of birds.  Clearly, it isn't a problem that this walkway is below all the surrounding beds, and is a shallow pond for several hours after each icy Winter torrent.

 

While the plants of Langsdorff's tobacco are strictly tropical, there must be some strong Finnish genes in the seeds that produce them:  Periodic immersion in icy water all Winter long?  If this tobacco's seeds could talk, we'd hear them shout, "Bring it on."

 

 

Here's how to grow this unusual tobacco:

 

Latin Name

Nicotiana langsdorffii

Common Name

Green-flowered Tobacco

Family

Solanaceae, the Potato family.

What kind of plant is it?

Tropical short-lived perennial; an annual everywhere.

Hardiness

The plants are supposedly only hardy in Zones 10 - 11, but my sense is that they occasionally overwinter in my Zone 6 garden.  The seeds are definitely hardy to Zone 6 and maybe lower:  I haven't planted Nicotiana langsdorffii in a decade, but it always shows up in my Summer gardens even so.

Habit

Large hairy lettuce-green leaves are in thick basal clumps.  The tall, sparsely-leaved, much-branching flower stems are generously dangled with pendant lime-green flowers. 

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in three months

Although perennial in the tropics, even there Langsdorff's tobacco is best grown as an annual.  It's a precocious bloomer, so can be in flower as well as full height by mid-Summer:  Two to five feet tall and two to three feet wide.  For me, two feet tall and wide is more usual.

Texture

The basal foliage is usually too low to figure into the overall picture, which is of tall see-through stems of dangling green flowers that are, so to speak, showy because of their discretion.

Grown for

its snob appeal:  Like it or not, your garden is a living biography of your evolving taste, wealth, priorities, and affectations.  (I say, "Like it and work with it.")  Growing anything that has green flowers when other "normally" colorful varieties of it could have been grown instead marks you as a sophisticate or at least a wannabe.  People in New York who want to be thought sophisticated because of their clothing favor black.  Growing green flowers is how you declare the same hope via your garden.  Green is the new black.

 

its flowers:  Lime-green conical bells hang freely, flexibly, and vertically off branching candelabras of stems no matter how the stems themselves might lean or stand tall.  Langsdorff's tobacco, then, adds some subtle geometry to its display:  If the stems are leaning outward, the flowers nonetheless all dangle vertically.  Stake the stem to vertical and those same flowers sway inward so as to keep vertical as well.  Unlike other popular garden tobaccos such as N. sylvestris and N. alata, N. langsdorffii flowers have no fragrance.  They are disciplined and abstemious in their show: Color and free-dangling alignment and that's it.     

 

its faithfulness: N. langsdorffii gently self-seeds even as far north as New England gardens, but never (alas) enough to become a major player in the Summer show.

Flowering season

Summer to frost:  If you start from seed indoors in March, you can have Langsdorff in flower almost from the week you set it out in late May.  Self-sown plants tend not to start into bloom much before August, which is fine with me:  By August anything that was in bloom in June is boring.  Anything that starts blooming in August, though—and then keeps blooming to frost—is a blessing.

Culture

Full sun or just a bit of shade, in rich soil and with occasional watering during droughts.  Self-sown plants, though, are just as likely to show up growing lustily out of a mean crack in the pavement.  

How to handle it

Because it's so indefatigable a bloomer, you can sow N. langsdorffii seeds indoors two or even three months before the last frost, and it will be in flower in your garden from June through frost.  Nicotiana all transplant well as young plants.  Transplant out to good soil, in full sun, only after Summer-like warmth is truly realistic.  Nicotiana are remarkably tolerant of cold nights in early Fall, but just as remarkably intolerant of them in early Spring.

 

Let the flowers mature to seed-pods.  You can collect these to sow indoors next season, but also let some pods mature fully on their own, to sow seeds at will for volunteers the next season.  Such volunteers can be larger and more floriferous than anything you yourself plant, regardless of having sprouted in what, otherwise, might seem completely unpromising locations far from the rich soil in full sun that you had chosen for the parent plants.

 

If your growing season is long enough, some of the candelabras of flowers will complete all possible blooming and even the production of the little pods of seeds that follow it.  Don't hesitate, then, to cut off these fully-mature stems (being sure to collect any remaining pods, or to scatter them on the ground), which will encourage still more candelabras to arise from the clump below, as well as new branches to sprout from the base of the just-cut candelabra.  Self-sown plants (at least for me) tend not to be in bloom that long, though—August to hard frost in October—so all their candelabras "stay current." 

 

Plant and grow as you would a dahlia: in full sun and in rich but fluffy and non-compacting soil.  Water if needed, but keep in mind that, like dahlias, these are plants native to hot and often dry locales in South America.  They like heat, and would prefer to have the soil surface get dusty-dry between waterings.

Downsides

Tobaccos are typically enthusiastic self-seeders, and the seeds can over-Winter even where the plants themselves are strictly tender.  N. langsdorffii self-seeds only modestly for me, but your experience might be different.  (And lucky you, if so!)  Dead-head and "candelabra-clip" more enthusiastically if so.

Variants

Variegated Langsdorff tobacco isn't worth its stripes; stick with the species.  There are also several other Nicotiana species and cultivars to welcome into your garden.  N. alata has white flowers that, in the evening, become jasmine-scented; there are many cultivars with colorful flowers (but no scent) and/or dwarfer habit; only the chocolate-burgundy 'Chocolate Smoke' would tempt me.  N. glauca has large blue leaves and small yellow flowers and can get twelve to sixteen feet tall in a season!  N. sylvestris has fragrant white flowers on tall "cobs," and can get six feet tall.  All of these can self-seed, gently or profusely.  (Cultivars with colorful flowers, though, don't come true.)  Seedlings are easy to identify and, when necessary, yank.  Even smoking tobacco, N. tobacum, is a handsome ornamental in its own right, to seven feet tall with large sprays of white or pink flowers.

Availability

On-line as well as at "destination" retailers.

Propagation

By seed.

Native habitat

Nicotiana langsdorffii is native to Chile and Brazil.

 
 
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