- Four to six feet tall, half as wide, vase-shaped
- In hot areas, some afternoon shade. Full sun in the north
- Regular, moderate watering
- A fairly rich soil with good drainage
- Hardy to Zone 8 (10 t0 15F)
- Native to Brazil
Another member of the Solanaceae family and another wish come true, thanks to Select Seeds. I first learned of this Brazilian flowering tobacco from garden designer Deborah Silver, one of her favorites for large containers. Silver possesses that rare and invaluable gardening trait: restraint. Her gardens, though often formally structured, look natural and peaceful. Her plants look comfortable and healthy.
I tried the woodland tobacco, Nicotiana sylvestris, in morning sun in the woods out back a couple of years ago, and, as Silver notes, it was an aphid magnet. I don’t think it likes this Kansas clay either, or the humidity. “Bella,” apparently, is tougher, though likely not tough enough to take our full summer sun. Placed at the edges of clearings in the woods, it will have morning sun–maybe a couple more hours than the columbines get each day–and filtered light in the afternoon.
I’m attracted to Bella’s habit, fragrance and flower color. Hot pink and magenta are not colors suited to this particular garden context, where most of the color blobs are blood-red, white and deep orange. But Bella’s flowers, flared trumpets about an inch long and wide, are held in profusion on wiry green stems, opening white and aging to a clear rose-pink. That color transition isn’t a unified choreography, so the blooms are always in differing color transitions–hence the epithet “mutabilis,” the changeling. In bloom, which runs late July to frost here, Bella produces a haze of soft color, one of my favorite garden effects.
Bella has a loose habit, a woman who lets the wind style her hair, though optimal height–four to six feet and half as wide–is best attained in a sheltered position. But, like many plants, if you get them in the ground early enough, its amazing how resilient they become. The incessant Kansas winds promote strong stems, which might be of value to plant breeders. Your new Dahlia hybrid too floppy? Send it to Kansas for a few generations.
Many nicotianas are intensely fragrant in the evenings. Fragrance, I believe, is the reason nicotianas were first brought into the garden. The species plants are rough and weedy, making poor garden subjects–but what a scent! Like jasmine and musk, especially after a hot day. Now, nicotianas are bred for both flower and fragrance, and their looseness of form is more welcome in today’s informal garden style.