A Mystical Experience

I needed to find a centerpiece of a large mixed container planting I was entering in a flower show in late June. The requirement was “at least three white-flowering plants from different genera in a 16″ terra-cotta colored pot.” Not too challenging, right? I thought so until I realized that a 16″ pot is really big and calls for at least one oversized, statement plant. And horticulture competitions have “ownership requirements,” meaning you’ve got to propagate, grow, or at least own all the plants for a minimum amount of time, in this case a month. That means no going to the nursery, buying spectacular stuff in bloom, and composing your entry a day or two before the judging.

In early spring I started thinking about which perennials in my garden and little greenhouse would be blooming, white, and the right size to dig up in late June: campanulas, astilbes, and hostas, for sure. The white oxalis, too, and maybe the fan iris, if I prayed a lot. And what could I plant in May that might be blooming in time? I trolled through White Flower Farm’s online database for “moon garden” ideas, then six weeks before the show visited my favorite nursery, Rosedale, where I picked out annuals for the filler and trailing roles: nicotiana, snapdragons, snow-in-summer. Those babies had enough time, I hoped, to grow up and fill out—away from bugs, wind, too much sun. Hort entries are judged on a point scale, and “cultural perfection” and “perfect grooming” are rated, as well as harmony, balance, scale, and other design criteria. No critters, or holes they’ve chewed. But what about the centerpiece? In Rosedale’s tropical section I mulled over the brugmansias and daturas. After lengthy pondering and tag-reading I bought two (young, not-yet-in-bloom) plants:

Datura innoxia ‘Evening Frangrance’: “Large trumpet-shaped white flowers up to 8 inches across with pale lavender edge. Attractive gray-green foliage.  Flowers are sweetly scented in the evening. 4′ wide x 4′ tall.”

Datura metel ‘White Ruffles’: “Pure white 6-inch double trumpet shaped flowers open from pale yellow buds. Eggplant colored trunk and stems with large dark green foliage. Flowers are sweetly scented in the evening. 3′ wide x 3′ tall.”

Daturas, the tags noted, are hardy in Zone 9, i.e., parts of California, Arizona and Texas, where they bloom spring to fall; they require full sun, lots of moisture, and rich, well-drained soil. By the end of June, I thought, these big boys would surely be performing as promised. Both, the tags read, were raised at Landcraft Environments, Mattituck, NY, a wholesale nursery on the North Fork of Long Island. Note to self: visit Landcraft later in summer and take the tour; it looks like a fascinating place.

My husband Julius (arm at left) helps by digging up an astilbe clump for the composition. The plants on the counter had been grown in small pots ready for transplanting  into the mixed container planting.

A few days before the show I started putting all the pieces together. The composition seemed to work well, and an astilbe, a hosta and a Japanese painted fern dug up from the garden were nice accents. But there was a problem: neither datura was blooming. Several buds. Not one flower. I picked the ‘white ruffles’ as having the most potential to burst into bloom by the time the judges came around with their clipboards.

Typical flower show key card

Then came making the key card, another requirement: a 4 x 6″ card with a drawing or photo of the composition with each plant labeled with its botanical and common names, time of ownership, and growing conditions.

Big problem #2: The whole deal did not fit in my station wagon, and barely made it into the passenger seat of the Jeep of my colleague who was driving it up to the show.

They put it first in the lineup and gave it ‘Honorable Mention‘ (third place).

Well, my entry didn’t look too bad in the lineup of others in the category, even though there was still not one datura flower. I got an Honorable Mention—I guess for effort—and I learned a lot, which is what these things are about anyway.

Today, checking out a few links for this post, I learned that daturas are not only poisonous, they’re reputed to have powerful mystical and hallucinogenic properties. Tea brewed from the roots, leaves and seeds from the prickly seed pod was used in Native American initiation ceremonies to induce visions. In some tribal cultures, it was used for divination, to induce dreams, for protection from evil, for strength on long hunts, for sharper vision, to hex and to break hexes, and to increase supernatural powers, and awaken supernormal perceptual states. Wow. Now I know what I can do with them over the winter. There’s lots more information on Sacred Datura site.

My planting is home, reposing on the deck, where it’s bursting into bloom THIS WEEK. However, each flower lasts only a day or so and falls off, revealing the above-mentioned prickly seed pods. Please excuse me while I go brew some tea and have a mystical experience. Don’t you think I deserve it?

The ‘Evening Fragrance’ cultivar has gotten  huge, and now lives on the back yard steps. Yesterday it had three big blooms.

About writedesigner

Graphic designer, writer, and gardener Ellen Shapiro is based in Irvington, New York. A frequent contributor to design blogs and magazines including Print, Imprint, Salon.com, Communication Arts, and Etapes, she writes about trends, issues and personalities in design, illustration, photography, and visual culture around the world.
This entry was posted in Flower and Plant Shows, Garden Design Projects, Horticulture, Nurseries and Garden Centers, What's Blooming Now and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Mystical Experience

  1. Pru Montgomery says:

    Dear Ellen,
    The pangs of dawdling blooms but what a glorious enterprise and now gorgeous container!
    Bravo!

  2. Thank you, darling Pru. I always love getting your comments. The containers are looking a bit droopy in this heat though. Even sun-lovers want some shade and LOTS of water.

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