Friday, October 17, 2008

Angel's Trumpet, or Brugmansia

Before summer completely deserts us, let me show some of the late clarions of the season. Brugmansias, or Angel's Trumpets are gorgeous tender perennials that will not bear the Northeast's cold. A number of years ago, I received three cuttings (4" sticks which I rooted) from a good friend who goes painting at a friend's house in Maine, and who traded one of her best paintings with the former New York Times garden advice columnist, her friend's neighbor, for five pieces of brugmansia cuttings. Thus I brag about the provenance of my angel's trumpets. Alas, I left them out too late one year, and only two survived. But the strongest survivor, now stands over 6 feet tall.

I have them in large pots; they are lugged out every summer to the patio, fussed over, and fed to encourage the formation of these glorious blossoms. (I had read somewhere that brugmansias thrive on tomato fertilizer.) In mid-September, the luminous pink, fragrant lanterns burst open suddenly, and lit up the corner of the garden by my little greenhouse shed.

Even now there are still a few buds on the plant, late stragglers, which I expect to burst into flower within the next week if the weather in Brooklyn holds. Before long, I will have to cut the plants back, bring them in, and let them live under the greenhouse table for the winter.

At this point, I catch my breath at this detail.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Life of a Cardoon

The cardoon, Cynara cardunculus, is often called an "architectural" plant. What this means is that the plant is tall and distinctive looking, with lots of structure. It stands. It looks like a statuesque artichoke, which is in the same horticultural family Cynara. An Italian delicacy, bagna cauda, calls for the stalks to be blanched and baked as a casserole in a flavored bechamel sauce.

But if you leave the flower head on the plant till late fall, you will be treated to this spectacular seed head, towering over the rest of the vegetable patch.