Wednesday, March 26, 2008

March beauties measure time in color trio of 'yesterday-today-and-tomorrow' brunfelsia plant

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel March 23, 2008)

My brunfelsia plant is in full splendor. Better known as "yesterday-today-and-tomorrow" -- isn't that an enchanting name? -- brunfelsia is an unusual, decorative and, sadly, underused addition to the landscape. It is also one of the most appropriately nicknamed plants out there.

The pansy-like blooms on this evergreen bush emerge purple but don't stay that color for long. In a day or two, they change from deep purple to soft lavender to their final phase, bright white. With flowers opening constantly, the result is a cheery three-tone display of color -- yesterday, today and tomorrow -- set against a leafy green backdrop.

I first encountered brunfelsia several years ago during a visit to Smith Nursery in Mascotte. This two-generation, family-run business on the western edge of Lake County is a fun place to visit any time but especially during early spring when yesterday-today-and-tomorrow is covered with blooms. The nursery surrounds the residence of founder Albert "Smithy" Smith and his wife, Margie, who long ago planted several garden areas where well-established brunfelsia bushes still thrive. It was in one of those gardens that a huge purple-to-white-studded plant first caught my eye. About 10 feet tall, the brunfelsia at Smith's Nursery is one of those once-you-see-it-you-must-have-it plants. That's why I bought mine and, according to Smith's daughter, Jenni Ball, I was neither the first nor the last customer to be bewitched by the eye-catching beauty of the mid-sized shrub.

"Many people buy brunfelsia after they see the ones we have growing here, especially if they come in March when the plant is in full bloom," Ball said.

While a few other nurseries stock brunfelsia, most don't, and I have no idea why not. It's a fast-growing plant with few pest problems that propagates easily from tip cuttings, seed or pup divisions. Native to Brazil, brunfelsia flourishes in Florida's warm climate, especially when planted in rich soil in slightly sunny or dappled locations. As if being a low-maintenance plant with three different color blossoms were not enough to make this an all-time winner, yesterday-today-and-tomorrow also smells lovely -- yet another advantage of these little-known beauties.

When I stroll around our property, plants like brunfelsia act as leafy reminders of people I've met or places I've visited. Not far from my yesterday-today-and-tomorrow bush is a Dutchman's pipe vine. Although it covers a lattice arbor, the vine started from a tiny snip clipped from an expansive stand in South Florida.

Another vine that triggers memories is the honeysuckle clinging tenaciously to the clay wall across from my office. Whenever I look at those butterscotch-colored climbers, I'm reminded of Cape Cod, not because they came from there, but because when I lived on the Cape, honeysuckle grew ubiquitously along many undeveloped stretches of road.

I expect that has changed in the past 25 years as people have claimed and tamed most of the available wild land. But no amount of development can keep me from remembering how fragrant the air used to be as I pedaled my old Peugot bicycle from Skaket Beach to Rock Harbor.

The yesterday-today-and-tomorrow plant doesn't bloom continually. In a few weeks, its blossoming period will have passed. Fortunately, memories are not restricted by such time limitations. In our mental inventory of past events, yesterdays, todays and dreams of tomorrow meld together in seamless symmetry. Fading though they do from one day to the next, the images we carry in our minds provide a muted catalog to page through whenever we want or feel the need for remembrances.

Brunfelsia is blooming in my garden, and I delight in its splendor not just today but tomorrow and for all the yesterdays gone by. Its purple, lavender and white flowers will remain as sweet reminders of my March garden long after the last blossom has faded.

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