This past weekend I visited Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, VA. There was plenty to see – quite a lot of plants were blooming but there were also plants with red berries, or beautiful foliage, or bright stems. One plant that stood out for me was the flowering tobacco. The large leaves were vibrant green and some plants still had flowers.
Flowering tobacco plants (Nicotiana spp.) are also known as heirloom, cottage garden, or old-fashioned plants. They are reliable, easy to grow from seed, and come back every year. Some re-seed but not in an obnoxious way. Here in the DC metro area, gardeners should consider planting these because they are deer and rabbit resistant and are quite tolerant of our heat and humidity. In the genus Nicotiana, there are about 60 species including the real (smoking) tobacco. Real tobacco grows much taller, maybe 5 to 6 feet, but the flower shapes are like flowering tobacco.
Flowering tobacco can be several feet tall as well but shorter varieties have been breed. Despite the height, they do not need to be staked. The flowers are tubular, usually open at night, can be fragrant, and attract moths, hummingbirds, and butterflies. This is a night plant for enjoying outside in the evening when you have come home from work and are sipping your cocktail in the garden. The white flowering varieties are ideal for moon gardens.
At Green Spring Gardens, they have flowering tobacco plants dotted around the property. Of course, now that it is December they are not blooming as much but the foliage is still quite green and large. I saw Nicotiana langsdorffii which has green-yellow tubular flowers. The plants were about 3 to 4 feet tall. These plants were in part shade or full sun but I find they do best with some shade.
I also saw some other flowering tobaccos with many red flowers that were growing under a tree, definitely a lot of shade.
I have flowering tobacco plants that grow right up against the house with no problems. I started mine years ago by sprinkling seeds in the bed. The seed package said “mixed colors” but really they are a purple/magenta color. This area is under the eaves, so the plants get part shade and only rainwater. Green Spring Gardens has several right up against the historic house that get part shade. I like the way they add vertical interest in front of a house.
As you are planning your 2021 garden and ordering seeds, consider adding flowering tobacco plants. They will flower all summer long, well into the fall, and deer won’t eat them. Here is a link to seed companies.