Tag Archives: flowers

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 Little Patch of Wildflowers

wildflowersThis spring I had an opportunity to create a wildflower meadow on my property. It is rare to have a blank slate to be able to start a wildflower meadow: an area with good soil and no plants, including no weeds. I was inspired by Mike Lizotte who showed photos and gave step by step instructions on Instagram. Owner of American Meadows, an online seed company, Mike wrote a book called Mini Meadows: Grow a Little Patch of Colorful Flowers Anywhere Around Your Yard. He shows how easy it is to sow wildflower seeds and grow a patch of beautiful flowers for the summer. Continue reading

Honesty, Money, and Sincerity: What More Could You Want in a Plant?

silver dollar flowers

Some plants provide beauty in the spring and then step off stage, only to be forgotten until next spring. Others provide beauty in the spring, come back with an encore in the fall, and stay with us all winter long. The silver dollar plant (Lunaria annua) is the latter, a plant that keeps coming back to center stage. These are blooming now in April in the Washington DC area.

Continue reading

National Plant a Flower Day

Today is National Plant a Flower Day. I always have flowers in my garden. Before this pandemic, I used to cut the flowers and bring them to my office. I am no flower arranger, I just put the zinnias, marigolds, and cosmos in a vase on my desk. My colleagues loved them. Invariably they would smile and strike up a conversation. Some would be brave enough to ask me to bring flowers for them while others were inspired to bring flowers of their own into the office. Continue reading

Flowering Tobacco Plants for Deer-Resistant Flowers

flowerThis past weekend I visited Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, VA. There was plenty to see – quite a lot of plants were blooming but there were also plants with red berries, or beautiful foliage, or bright stems. One plant that stood out for me was the flowering tobacco. The large leaves were vibrant green and some plants still had flowers. Continue reading

Heirloom Flowers: 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 as an heirloom. Continue reading

Start Planting Cool Season, Hardy Annuals for Spring Flowers

snapdragons in the spring

Now is the time to start thinking of planting cool season hardy annuals. This is a group of annuals (grow and die in one season) that can survive the winter and thrive in cool spring weather. In the Washington DC metro area, they are planted in the fall and bloom in the spring. They spend the winter getting established so when spring arrives, they are ready to bolt out the door waving their pretty flowers before the warm season summer annuals appear.

Examples of cool season annuals are snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus), calendula (Calendula officinalis), bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis), delphinium (Delphinium), lisianthus (Eustoma), love in a mist (Nigella), sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), and bachelor buttons (Centaurea cyanus). Many of these make great cut flowers.

I credit everything I have learned about cool season hardy annuals to Lisa Mason Ziegler and her book, Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques.  Lisa manages a commercial cut flower business in Newport News, which is in Zone 7, similar to my Northern Virginia garden. In addition to growing and selling cut flowers, she writes books, gives lectures, provides free videos as well as Facebook Live presentations, and manages a website called The Gardener’s Workshop.

Several years ago I was inspired by her book to plant calendula and snapdragons in the fall. I was starting them in the beginning of the growing season and was not having great success. The weather became too hot before the snapdragons could bloom and the calendula foliage was covered in powdery mildew because of the summer’s heat and humidity. When I tried her method of starting them in the fall, they both bloomed early enough the following spring that I was able to enjoy the calendula flowers before powdery mildew set in and cut many snapdragons for indoor arrangements.

calendula flowers in the spring

This year, I plan to grow sweet peas, which I have not been able to master in the spring. Our springs are just too short to have a long blooming period. I bought a package of Botanical Interests ‘Old Spice Blend’, a fragrant, heirloom blend of various flower colors. Interestingly, sweet peas are deer resistant and attract pollinators but I am going to grow them for indoor flower arrangements so I can enjoy their beautiful, fragrant flowers in the office.

Although Lisa provides specific information for 30 flowers in her book, in general, we should start 6 to 8 weeks before the average first frost. In Northern Virginia, 8 weeks is August 31 and 6 weeks is September 15. She recommends to err on starting later rather than earlier. Some seeds can be sowed directly in the garden while others work well as transplants. Sweet peas can be done either way so I am going to do both as an experiment to see which works better in my garden. I will start half of the seeds indoors under lights and half outdoors, directly in the garden. In order to have transplants large enough to move into the ground around September 15, I would have to start sowing seeds around September 1. Then I can sow the remaining seeds around September 15. September is still a very hot month so I will have to remember to water often. If this works, next year I will post a photo of the sweet peas.

If hardy annuals are something you would like to try, you can catch up by visiting Lisa’s website, listening to her videos, and reading her book. Although she sells seeds and gardening products, you can also purchase seed packets at your local independent garden center. Good luck!

The Magical Flowers of Butterfly Pea Plants

In August 2017, I visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden. It was beautiful and I took many photos. As always the plants that stayed with me were the ones I had not seen before. I remember vines with beautiful pea-like flowers, about 2 inches wide, wrapped around dead trees, which were painted (“art”). The flowers were blue/purple with a yellow inner strip and the green leaves reminded me of Kentucky coffee trees. Obviously it was a tropical vine in the legume family (Fabaceae) but I could not find a sign. Later when I got home, I stumbled across the same plant on Facebook only with cobalt blue flowers. Its name, I learned, was butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea).

The Facebook post said the flowers were used for an herbal tea. I had no idea this pretty vine had herbal qualities.  I researched online and discovered that the cobalt blue variety is well-known in Asian countries. The flowers are dried and sold in bags but one can purchase a powdered form or an extract. The flowers can be brewed alone or combined with other herbs such as lemongrass, ginger, and mint. The blue comes from anthocyanins, which are antioxidant compounds, similar to blueberries.

When brewed with water the tea is cobalt blue. However, when an acid is added, such as lemon juice, the tea turns purple. When an alkaline liquid such as roselle tea is added, the tea turns red. Apparently butterfly pea tea acts like a litmus strip, the color of the drink changes with the pH of what it is mixed with. This does not affect the taste but has transformed butterfly tea into a novelty cocktail drink. The cobalt blue flowers also are used to dye food such as custards, puddings, rice dishes, and sticky rice.

Butterfly pea is native to Africa. Here in Virginia it would be grown as an annual. The vine grows rapidly in the summer and needs support so an arbor is ideal but would be interesting to try it in a hanging basket. As a member of the pea family, the plant fixates nitrogen and is good for the soil. The vine can take full sun to light shade and is drought tolerant. There are several varieties, some have cobalt blue, lavender, or white flowers in single or double flowered forms.

This is not an easy plant to find here in Virginia but it seems that once you have the plant, you can let some flowers go to seed and collect the pods for next year. Last week I was in Florida and toured a friend’s garden. He was growing this plant in a large container with a trellis. I was so excited to see the butterfly pea again and explained how I was interested in growing it. He had a plastic bag full of the seed pods and offered me some. I took a handful of pods which by now had dried and split open and brought them home. This week, I plan to sow the seeds outside and grow butterfly pea plants in order to experiment with novelty drinks!

Sow-a-Smile: Grow and Give Flowers This Summer

For years I have cut flowers from my garden and brought them to my office. I am no flower arranger, I just stick the zinnias, marigolds, daisies, and cosmos in a vase and put the vase on my desk. My colleagues love them. Invariably they smile and strike up a conversation. Some ask me to bring in flowers for them; some are inspired to bring in flowers of their own.

Jeannette Haviland-Jones, Professor Emeritus with Rutgers’ Department of Psychology, has researched the impact flowers have on both men and women. In three different studies, she has proven that flowers are a positive emotional “inducer.” In the first study, flowers, when given to women, elicited the Duchenne smile. The Duchenne smile is a genuine smile, an indicator of happiness. The corners of the mouth are raised, the cheeks are raised, and the eyes are crinkled with lines. In addition, the women in the study reported more positive moods 3 days later.

In the second study, a flower or a pen was given to men and women in an elevator to see if flowers have the same impact on men and also to see if flowers (versus pens) would decrease the social distance in an elevator and increase conversation initiation. Men showed the same pattern of smiling when receiving flowers. When the people in the elevator were given flowers, they were more likely to initiate conversation thus closing the gap between them. In a third study, flowers were given to people in senior living residences. The flowers elicited positive moods and improved episodic memory.

Her research proves what we instinctively know: flowers trigger happy emotions and affect social behavior in a positive way. To celebrate the power of flowers, Burpee has started a sow-a-smile campaign. They are giving a free packet of flower seeds with each purchase of annual flowers (seed or plants). The seed packet has easy-to-grow annuals such as baby’s breath, candytuft, scarlet flax, red corn poppy, calendula, cornflower, zinnia, sulphur cosmos, gloriosa daisy, plains coreopsis, and catchfly. Burpee is encouraging people to grow and give a bouquet, capture the recipient’s smile on camera, and share the images on their Facebook site. A brilliant idea – share the love! If you want to see the Duchenne smile on your friends, family, and colleagues, give flowers!

Photos courtesy of Burpee.