Category Archives: flowers

Evening Bloomers: Four O’ Clocks

yellow four o’ clocks in my garden, 8:30 pm

A few years ago my family visited Monticello in the summer. I was struck by how large Thomas Jefferson’s four o’ clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) were compared to mine. I also liked the fact that it was a plant he grew and could still be grown today. Four o’ clocks are heirloom, perennial plants that bloom in the summer. Continue reading

A DC Gem: Lotus Flowers and Water Lilies at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

Before the pandemic, I visited the annual water lily and lotus festival at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. The free, family event was all day long in July.  I arrived early to park nearby but there was a shuttle that ferried people from the metro station and other parking lots. The music had already started. There was a stage with a band, plenty of picnic tables, and paper lotus-shaped lanterns strung from trees. People from several local organizations were setting up tables to either inform the public of their organization, offer crafts for kids, sell or make the paper lanterns, try lotus tea, and other activities. Many families brought coolers to eat lunch. Later I spied several food trucks parked on the street. There was a small gift shop, plenty of bathrooms, and very informative rangers. There also were volunteer from the Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens distributing brochures. Continue reading

Flowers for the Evening: Four O’ Clocks

yellow four o’ clocks in my garden, 8:30 pm

A few years ago my family visited Monticello in the summer. I was struck by how large Thomas Jefferson’s four o’ clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) were compared to mine. I also liked the fact that it was a plant he grew and wrote about in his journal. These heirloom flowers are still grown today.

Although I had a few small plants in dry, lean soil in full sun, I was inspired to start new plants from seed. I planted them in very rich soil, in an area of the garden that received morning sun and afternoon shade. They thrived and grew to be about 2 feet tall with light green leaves and many yellow or pink blossoms.

Although they are named for opening at 4:00 pm, mine never do. The blossoms are sensitive to light and temperature and prefer to open when the evening cools down, closer to 7:00 pm in my garden. They stay open all night long. In the fall, they develop large black seeds that are very easy to pick and save.

flower begins to open in evening

Flower colors come in pink, white, red, yellow, magenta, or mixed, liked speckled. They are tender perennials which means they will grow as perennials in the south. In my zone 7 garden, they should grow as annuals but mine must be in a special micro-climate because mine come back every year.  For people who are north of me, they can try to dig and save the tubers for next year, or start new seed next year. I have a friend who says they are considered aggressive in southern Virginia but I have not had any issues with mine. I heard a horticulturist at a public garden in Atlanta, GA, say that they grow them for the evening visitors, who come to walk the gardens when the temperatures have cooled down.

Four o’ clocks were cultivated and selected for various colors by the Aztecs prior to the Spanish Conquest. They were then introduced to Spain and England and were in cultivation in Europe for about 200 years before Linnaeus first described the species in 1753. Thomas Jefferson received his from France. In July 1767, he noted in his journal “Mirabilis just opened, very clever.”

Try these heirloom plants for an evening garden. The seed are very easy to save so you may see some at seed swaps but if not, try these seed companies.

pink four o’ clocks at Monticello, early afternoon

May Is Dahlia Planting Time

Mother’s Day signals the time to plant dahlias. Like chrysanthemums, many people associate dahlias with the fall but dahlias can bloom from the beginning of summer to frost. Dahlia flowers are available in a wide range of sizes, colors, and shapes. Each bloom can be 2 inches across to more than 10 inches, in all colors except blue. Plants can reach one to 6 feet tall. Some plants have beautiful dark foliage instead of green leaves. Although there are 40 plus species there are thousands of cultivars. In addition, there are numerous forms such as the single, peony, anemone, collerette, star or single orchid, double orchid, cactus, waterlily, ball, and pompom. Continue reading

A Great Houseplant for the Winter: Anthurium

When I was young, we lived in Thailand and my mother (who grew up in Milwaukee) would buy plants and orchids from the market. I remember one houseplant in particular. The beautiful flowers were so waxy they looked like they had been polished with furniture polish. The red flowers would last for months. My mother of course did not speak Thai so we did not know the names of the plants but we enjoyed their exotic beauty. Now that I am older, I know the waxy plants are called anthuriums. Although I associate them with tropical Asian countries, they really hail from South America tropical environments.

Anthuriums are members of the Araceae or arum family. The “flower,” the red, heart-shaped part, is a modified leaf called a spathe. The actual flowers are tiny and appear in the center vertical structure called the spadix. The “flower” lasts a long time, making them ideal for cut flower arrangements.

As a houseplant, anthuriums can grow in low light conditions. However, the more light you can provide the more likely it will bloom throughout the year. It definitely does not like moist soil. Water when the soil is dry to the touch. Anthuriums are easy, low maintenance plants, perfect for the home and office.

Usually one sees red-flowering plants at the hardware store or nursery but pink, green and white, and purple colored cultivars are available. There is even a black flower cultivar called ‘Black Love‘. My plant was less than ten dollars at the local hardware store but it was very root bound in a 4-inch pot so check your plant’s roots after you purchase it.

Anthuriums as the perfect winter houseplant: the flowers last a long time and the plant has an exotic, year round appeal. Try growing this easy houseplant or purchase one as a hostess gift when you visit family and friends this year.

Winter Blooming Witch Hazel

Early Bird

Early Bird

One of my favorite winter bloomers is witch hazel, a small shrub-like tree.  The flowers themselves are only a few inches, but their unique shape and ability to cover dark, bare stems with flashes of color add excitement in winter gardens. The flowers are really clusters of four petals shaped like thin ribbons emanating from a dark, leathery base called a calyx. Depending on the cultivar, these one-inch to two-inch long ribbons are translucent yellow or mustard yellow, red/orange or brown/orange, or scarlet red or rust red. On warm winter days, the ribbons unfurl. As temperatures drop, the ribbons curl back as a protective mechanism against the cold. Continue reading

Growing Mexican Sunflowers for Orange in the Fall

Mexican sunflowerThis year I grew Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia) for the first time, and I must say, I highly recommend this annual. Although I should also say, I did not grow this plant intentionally. In fact, I have never been interested in growing Mexican sunflowers before because of their signature orange flowers. I don’t mind a strip of orange here and there in marigolds or zinnias but broad strokes of bright orange seemed too garish. Continue reading

Mandevilla: Tropical Beauties Worth Keeping

mandevillaRecently I was given a mandevilla plant, which is a popular summer bloomer in the DC metro area.  I have always admired these vigorous climbers with bright, large, trumpet-shaped flowers. Usually, I see pink, red, or white blossoms, but there are other colors on the market. Continue reading

Deer-Resistant, Fall-Blooming Obedient Plant

Obedient Plant

Obedient Plant

A familiar fall bloomer in this area is obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana). These remind me of early American gardens: Thomas Jefferson grew these Native American perennials at Monticello, and George Washington had plantings at Mt. Vernon. Philadelphia plantsman John Bartram also grew them and sold them in his catalog. They are passalong plants, easily divided and shared.  My plants came from a friend who pulled a clump from her garden several years ago. My original plant has thrived and spread via rhizomes (underground stems) but only a few feet in the same garden bed. Not too much but just enough to provide extra plants to share and abundant flowers to cut for an arrangement. Continue reading

Got Deer? Here Are a Few Deer-Proof Bulbs for Spring Flowers

snowdrop blossoms in the woodsNow is the time to start thinking about purchasing spring-blooming bulbs in the Washington DC metro area. There is a wide variety of choices but if you have a severe deer problem, you may want to plant deer-proof bulbs. I know, you say, there is no such thing as “deer-proof.” However, with bulbs there are a few that are actually poisonous. The amaryllis family offers three popular critter-proof bulbs that contain lycorine, a poisonous crystalline alkaloid. Somehow, animals know about lycorine and stay away from these bulbs plus the bulbs perform well in this area and last for many years in the garden. Continue reading