Easy, Old-Fashioned Flowers: Four O’Clocks

t one point in my gardening life, I took gardening very seriously, devouring garden magazines and books, listening and learning. I planted a lot of hard plants, and I don’t mean “hard” as in “hard as concrete,” but “hard” as in “hard to grow.” A steady procession of exotic, trendy plants picked up at fancy nurseries entered my garden. The plants lived, and then they died. Plants whose mothers and fathers had lived on the slopes of the Himalayas found themselves inexplicably in a garden in Midwestern America, roots squeezed by clay soil, leaves ruffled by not a breeze in the stifling Midwestern summers. The atmospheric pressure weighed heavily on these plants, and they swooned away, leaving me, the gardener, feeling unworthy of  her trowel. Surreptitiously, though, I also planted easy plants, hoping no one would notice, hiding them behind the Stylophorum lasiocarpum. I

Pressed and dried Four O'Clock

happily planted my grandmother’s rhubarb, day-glo zinnias, hostas from my Mom, and marigolds as bright as gold doubloons. I talked softly to these plants, knowing they understood my flat Midwestern twang, unlike the Himalayan plants, who apparently understood only Urdu. The easy plants didn’t snicker when I pronounced “campanula” with an accent on the “ewe.” Some of the hard plants turned out to be easy plants, like epimediums, which really need a less hoity-toity name, so I don’t regret trying the hard plants. But many a hard plant did drop dead leaving room for more easy plants. My inner garden guru intoned “Ommm. Proceed as the way opens,” and this I did.

At any rate, flowers like four o’clocks soared to the top of my list of plant favorites. Four o’clocks  have big seeds, fluorescent flowers, clean, dark green foliage, and smell like flowers from Mars would, if there were flowers on Mars. They self-seed, but because their seeds are big and heavy, looking like tiny hand grenades, they just replace themselves and don’t wander where they are not wanted. Yes, they don’t open until later in the day, but you know what? As a night owl, neither do I.

So if you tired, very tired, of growing the hard stuff, give four o’clocks a try. Plant them, and then go purchase a hammock. Sway in the breeze with the flowers. Go easy.

Four o'clocks recovering from hail storm.Now I have to mention that while I would love to include a nice photo of my four o’clocks, that they were crushed under a hailstorm last Saturday. Knocked flat and traumatized, they won’t open and it’s 7:30. So this picture shows what’s left of my four o’clocks, and I hope it won’t discourage you from trying them.

Select Seeds (www.selectseeds.com) has a wonderful assortment of heirloom four o’clock seeds, including ‘Fairy Trumpets’ and ‘Marrakesh’ and, barring hailstorms, would be easy to grow.

Another old-fashioned easy annual is balsam (Impatiens balsamina). These are really charming, and they will tolerate some shade.

Balsam (Impatiens balsamina)
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