One scented plant your garden needs


Njoki Kamau, founder and CEO Alpha Plants holding The Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow plant (Brunfelsia) on September 30, 2021 in Nairobi. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG


  • The Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora) is a tropical, shrubby, and perennial flowering plant from Brazil.
  • Gladys Wairimu describes that the plant brings out the goodness of nature by sight, touch, and scent.
  • The plant thrives in well-draining, loamy, and acidic soil, and requires very little maintencance.

The months of September and October are exciting for plants in our gardens. The transition from cold to warm climate creates perfect conditions for flowers to come out and shine. From the delicate purple flowers of the towering Jacaranda trees, the bright yellow flowers of the trumpet trees, and the fiery red of the iconic Illawarra flame tree among others.

Joining this vibrant party is the Brunfelsia pauciflora, commonly known as the Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow and Gladys Wairimu cannot get enough of it.

When designing her garden, Ms Wairimu not only wanted to experience nature’s goodness by sight and touch but also by scent. Her gardener recommended the plant. It was a perfect choice.

“A plant bursting with fragrant flowers is an exceptional treat,” Ms Wairimu says at her garden in Nairobi’s Muthaiga Estate.

Next to her living room windows, are five Brunfelsia plants that give a mesmerising spectacle of flowers and aromatic pleasures.

The Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow is a tropical, shrubby and perennial flowering plant from Brazil. Its other street names are morning-noon-and-night, kiss me quick, and Brazil rain tree.

“When I’m in the living room and a gentle breeze blows in from the direction of the plants, I inhale naturally perfumed oxygen and I love it,” she says.

Now, imagine being welcomed home after a long day in the fast-paced highly polluted city by such a fragrance. Talk of nature treating you to a session of aromatherapy.

According to Njoki Kamau, founder of Alpha plants in Nairobi, the Brunfelsia is a must-have in your garden.

Its showy flowers last for a short but sweet three days, changing colour from purple to lavender and then white, hence its name — Yesterday-Today and Tomorrow. The flowers do not bloom all at once making the contrasting colours a display that warrants your attention.

“Throughout the blooming season, the flowers give off a delightful fragrance. Furthermore, when not in bloom, the plant’s rich dark green foliage provides colour all year round,” Ms Kamau adds.

As such, this sweet-smelling plant is great for landscaping. It is a stunner as a centrepiece, in entrances or driveways, a formidable windbreaker for small to medium residential gardens, a welcoming hedge, and may also be used to form topiaries. It also provides a striking lush green background when not in bloom.

“Plant them near your walkways. Their fragrance is best enjoyed as one is strolling early morning or evening. You’ll be refreshed,” Ms Wairimu says.

Bees, butterflies and other agents of pollination will make their home with you.

How to plant

The Brunfelsia is propagated from cuttings. Ms Kamau shares how. Begin by preparing a flatbed with loamy soil, full of nutrients. A mix of red soil, organic compost and sand will make an idea planting medium. Ensure that the soil is well-draining to avoid soil compaction.

Once ready, choose healthy and mid-young branches from the mother plant. Cut off about four to six inches branches and strip the bottom leaves from the stem cuttings and leave about 3-4 leaves on the top part of the cutting. Dip the bottom tips of the cuttings into a rooting agent and stick them into the flatbed and firm the soil around them so that they stand vertically.

Cover the flatbed with clear plastic polythene and place it in a warm and bright spot away from direct sunlight. Keep the flatbed moisturised. Once new roots develop, remove the plastic container and allow the new plants to grow before transplanting them.

This tropical plant thrives in well-draining, loamy and acidic soil that is achieved through mixing soil, organic compost, and acidic fertilisers.

As for care, little maintenance is required. Ensure the soil is moist. Overwatering may cause root and stem rot. Be sure to prune the plant in preparation for new leaf growth and flowering in the coming seasons.

“The plant also requires regular feeding with nitrogen, calcium and potassium-based fertilisers throughout its growing life. This can also be efficiently achieved through the application of chicken, goat or cow manure or applying a good balance organic compost,” shares the plant enthusiast.

A semi-deciduous shrub, it blooms under average weather conditions when exposed to the morning sun and afternoon shade.

For more bloom power, ensure the nitrogen factor is lower than the phosphorus factor in its plating medium. If using manure, apply more goat, and less chicken manure as chicken manure has a higher concentration of nitrogen. Under favourable conditions, however, it can flower all year round. Another plus for this plant is that it can also be planted in a container making them perfect for balcony gardens and tiny spaces.

The trick is in the container’s size. It should be spacious enough to allow the root to grow sufficiently. A 40cm by 40cm by 60cm container is perfect to grow a six to ten feet tall Brunfelsia. Ensure the soil in the container is well balanced and properly drains out. Set it not in overly shaded or extremely hot positions.

These plants are not susceptible to diseases. On few occasions, you may receive unwanted guests like termites, whiteflies, black bugs, mealy bugs, and stem and roots nematodes. Resist their intrusion through the use of local and common pesticides.

Scented garden

Even with all the praises sang about the scented Brunfelsia, its flowers contain poisonous alkaloids and may not be the best choice for households with young children, and pets such as cats and puppies. The berries are especially toxic. Extra care should therefore be taken to avoid accidental poisoning.

As the sun goes down, you will find Ms Wairimu by her window watching or tending to her evergreen Brunfelsia. She plans to add more of them to increase the potency of the scent she still cannot describe.

“A colourful garden may be pleasant to look at but a scented garden transforms the gardening experience into a lasting memory. You’ll always remember this garden whenever you catch a whiff of its aromatic flowers no matter where you are,” she says.