ShadyGardens Blog

July 18, 2009

Four Oclock: Fragrant Blooms for the Evening Garden

If you like fragrant plants, the old-fashioned Four Oclock will be one of your favorites. Small pink blooms scent the garden with their sweet perfume every evening during summer. Mirabilis jalapa is a shrub-like multibranched perennial plant that emerges each spring from a large carrot-shaped tuber. The common name Four Oclock comes from its fascinating habit of opening its blooms around 4 oclock in the afternoon. That alone is enough to intrigue me, since I have a natural interest in plants with unusual traits. Although it’s called Four Oclock, in our garden Mirabilis actually opens her blooms around 5:30 pm, perfuming the air right about the time it begins to cool off enough to sit in the shade on the patio.

Four Oclock is very easy to grow. Easy to please, four oclock can be grown in sun or shade. Our plants get morning sun and afternoon shade, but four oclock grows equally well in full shade with a reasonable amount of water. She’s not a water hog, but good soil with regular water will keep the plant looking healthy and green with plenty of those fragrant blooms. Just so you’ll know, plants in our shade garden get very little water, yet still bloom and multiply with profusion. Plants in the sun that receive occasional water perform just about as well as those in dry shade. The few Four Oclocks we have in dry sun are just surviving.

I can’t really describe the fragrance–it’s just a sweet, pleasant scent that invites me to relax outdoors. You might not notice the scent until your plant gets large with many blooms. And if you’re never outdoors in the evening, well…you’ll just miss out entirely.

Another important feature of the fragrant Four Oclock is that hummingbirds just adore it! The hot pink blooms are tubular and full of nectar for both butterflies and hummingbirds. You’ll further enjoy sitting on the patio observing the tiny creatures flitting about around the plants.

Four Oclock dies to the ground with the onset of winter in colder zones, but re-emerges again in late spring. Hardy in USDA Zones 7-11, mirabilis can be grown anywhere in the southern half of the United States.

I must tell you also that Four Oclock is definitely a reseeder. Toward the end of summer you’ll notice small black cannonballs on the plants and the ground beneath. Those are very viable seeds. If you’ve had no luck growing Four Oclock from seed, that’s because these very hard seeds need a cold treatment to break them. It’s best to plant them in fall, but most gardeners don’t think about it then and seeds often are not available in the big box stores at that time of year. You’ll have nearly instant gratification if you go ahead and purchase a tuber instead. Heavy black carrot-shaped tubers will send up a stem very quickly after planting in warm summer soil. Four Oclock tubers are available for summer shipping from Shady Gardens Nursery.

January 7, 2008

Italian Arum for the Winter Shade Garden

An unusual perennial I enjoy seeing in the winter garden is Italian Arum. Just as the Hostas disappear for the winter, the beautiful deep green leaves of Arum Italicum emerge. The variegated leaves are arrow-shaped and very unusual, sometimes growing quite large—up to 12 inches long on mature plants. Italian Arum is a tuberous perennial, which is probably why it is so hardy and tolerant of the drought so common in Georgia. The leaves are variegated green and white and last until May. Mature plants produce an Arum-type spathe in spring followed by bright red berries that remain on the stalk even after the leaves have disappeared. Italian Arum forms a nice clump of leaves about a foot tall, and is a great companion plant for any perennial that dies down for the winter. It grows well with hosta, ferns, and hellebores. As the hosta leaves emerge, Italian Arum will go to sleep for the summer, storing energy for an even better show the next fall. An added bonus is that deer will not touch Arum Italicum! To purchase this plant, please visit www.shadygardens.biz. I hope you’ll enjoy the warm spells we have in between the cold snaps by getting outside, and remember to pray for the regular rain showers to continue!

Blog at WordPress.com.