Sunday 17 December 2017

Angel's trumpet a late summer show-stopper

THE angel's trumpet has large flowers in trumpet shape, up to a foot long, in a range of soft, but bright colours. The sight of a large bush or small tree decked with hanging trumpets is unforgettable. Although this is a tropical plant from South America, it can be grown successfully here and makes a special plant for late summer.

Being a tropical plant, the angel's trumpet thrives best in a warm climate. In those conditions, it makes a small tree, rounded or flat-topped to about three metres or a bit more. From the sturdy branches, dozens of flowers are produced in a succession from spring to autumn. Things are a little different here.

The plant cannot tolerate frost and are often killed to ground level, but usually resprout. Unlike plants grown in frost-free climate, the top of the plants is usually killed in this country and then has to re-establish from the base. The new stems take time to grow and this pushes flowering back to late summer.

There are many species, of which only a few are grown as garden plants. It is sometimes known as datura, the old botanical name, now correctly Brugmansia. The most common is Brugmansia sanguinea, which has orange-red flowers near the mouth of the trumpet, yellow further back. There are several other species, with white, yellow and pink flowers, some frilled at the edge of the trumpet. There are some named varieties too, such as 'Grand Marnier' in pale apricot and 'Ecuador Pink', a dusky pink.

None of these is hardy but Brugmansia sanguinea is somewhat more resilient than others and this is the one grown outdoors in mild areas. It stands a better chance of survival if the root area is covered with leafy mulch in winter. In colder areas, grow brugmansia in a large pot and take it under cover in winter. A cold greenhouse, without artificial heat to protect against frost, will not keep the plant safe, but a conservatory or porch would be fine.

Keeping the top of the plant intact through winter means it will begin to flower earlier, and a longer flowering season will result. In cold parts of America, the plants are dug up in autumn and stored in a shed over winter. Well-grown plants can be over two metres tall.

From spring to early autumn, in a pot, water and liquid feed well to encourage rapid growth and lots of flowers. Brugmansia is easily grown from cuttings. Be careful when handling the plant, especially cutting it back, or taking cuttings, as its juice is poisonous if ingested. Cases of poisoning are very rare but can be severe. In the garden it likes well-drained, rich fertile soil and a sunny, sheltered position.

Sunday Independent

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