A Magical Plant

We have all heard about plants with medicinal properties, some of us have experienced them.  A very simple one, for example is the sap of the bulbinella, which when squeezed onto an insect bite has an almost instantaneous soothing effect. There are many others – some need to be boiled, others need to be chopped or rubbed, or made into a poultice etc. etc.

But what do you know about plants with magical properties?  (I’m not referring to mushrooms).  I am sure we all know of plants which can instantly change one’s mood. You don’t have to eat them, you just have to look at their perfect shape or colour or smell their wonderful scent. Each of us will have different reactions to particular plants.  Wandering into your garden clutching your first cup of tea, and seeing a newly-opened perfect rose, can make the whole day feel special and somehow lift your spirits.

The heady scent from the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora) bush takes me back instantly to the first time I encountered the shrub many years ago in the Johannesburg garden of my great-aunt. I feel again the amazement and delight I felt as a small child to see one shrub with three different coloured flowers, all flowering at the same time, and with such a gorgeous scent!

So although its home is in the Brazilian rainforests, and it doesn’t really fit into a Southern Cape largely indigenous garden, this shrub will always be welcome in our garden. What a lovely surprise it was to find a little old Brunfelsia quietly growing at the back of the garden – in spite of being totally smothered by a rampant bougainvillea. All it needed to start a new lease of life was some light and air, as well as some nourishing compost and a good mulch in summer to protect its roots and retain moisture. These shrubs are fairly hardy as long as they are in a warm and sheltered position and are happy to grow in sun as well as in semi-shade. If their leaves become pale and yellow they need a foliar feed of iron chelate and 2-3 tablespoons of Epsom salts watered in around the roots to correct the pH of the soil.  They can also be grown in pots near an open window so that their delectable scent floats into your home. Just remember that not all Brunfelsia species are scented, so do smell the flowers before buying.

Leonie Twentyman-Jones

Photographs: Margaret Richards