Bougainvillea are an immensely showy, floriferous and hardy plant. Virtually pest-free and disease resistant, it rewards its owner with an abundance of color and vitality when it is well looked after.

Scent-sational: An evening surrounded by tropical splendour

| Posted on 7:23 AM | Posted in

By Steve Whysall, Vancouver sun

Walking into Umberto Garbuio's garden at night is like walking into a perfume shop: the garden is drenched in the most heavenly fragrances.

At this time of year, Garbuio's garden in Burnaby is probably the most fragrant garden in Canada. It is, after all, almost October and yet his garden is brimming with some of most heavily scented plants on the planet.

And it is not merely the rare and exotic nature of the plants that make this garden unique, but the size of them: they are, by any standards, very large, mature specimens indeed.

There are towering angel's trumpets (Brugmansia) everywhere. Peach-coloured ones. Yellow ones. And an enormous white variety, that is at least four meters (13 feet) high and is weighed down with dozens of super-fragrant blooms.

The scent of these frost-tender plants, which are native to South America, is so intense it spills over into the street and often stops people in their tracks as they walk along the sidewalk.

In the back yard, along with exotic plants, such as blue plumbago and the Congo Cockatoo plant (Impatiens niamniamensis), Garbuio has at least half a dozen pots filled with the massively fragrant night-scented jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum), which also goes by the name Lady of the Night.

Indigenous to the West Indies, it has beautiful, white tube-shaped flowers that are bunched together in dense, loose clusters. These flowers release the full-strength of their fragrance at night. The sweetness of the scent is described as "intoxicating" by Gardino, a Florida nursery specializing in rare and unusual plants.

In some parts of the world, including Australia, New Zealand and parts of the southern U.S., cestrum has become an invasive, nuisance plant and is regarded as a weed.

But here in Canada, it is a tender specialty, much sought after by collectors of exotic plants, and needs to be brought into a frost-free place for winter. Garbuio keeps his in a heated greenhouse during the cold season.

Later this month, Garbuio's Queen of the Night plant (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) - also known as the Dutchman's pipe cactus - will burst into flower.

These large, white flowers also have a sensational fragrance.

Native to South America, the plant blooms just once a year, producing extraordinary flowers, which can measure 20 cm (eight inches) across.

They open at night, usually after 8 p.m. Enthusiasts say it almost always opens on a night with a full moon. Once open, the flowers, which are made up of a dense ruffle of soft white petals, breathe an unforgettable honey-like fragrance into the air.

In past years, Garbuio has organized special Queen-of-the-Night parties, so friends can be present to witness this once a year spectacular.

And being Italian, he supplies his guest with his home-made wine to toast the beauty of the blooms.

To complete the tropical feel of his garden, Garbuio also grows dozens of fuchsias, bougainvillea, pelargoniums, canna lilies, hardy banana trees, windmill palms, cactus and succulents.

He also has one of the largest Italian fig trees in B.C. plus grape and kiwi vines that produce bumper crops.

"My grandson once told me I had too many plants, so I told him he had too many toys, and he said, 'No, I don't' and I said, 'Neither do I."

It is true, however, that many of his plants have to be carefully packed away in a warm greenhouse for winter. That is a lot of work every October.

Still, Garbuio, 77, who has been garden all his life, says the pleasure he gets from his fantastically fragrant garden is worth all the effort.

swhysall@vancouversun.com