Tag Archives: Thomas Jefferson

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Four O’Clocks

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

When we were at Monticello last 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 knew and grew and could still be grown today as an heirloom. Although I had a few small plants in dry, lean soil in full sun, I was inspired to start new plants from seed this year. I planted them in very rich soil, under morning sun and afternoon shade. Yes, Virginia, despite our heat, humidity, and lack of rain, they are growing very well. They are about 2 feet tall with light green leaves and many yellow or pink blossoms.

The only trick is that the flowers do not open in the day. Although they are named for opening at 4:00 pm, mine never do. The tubular blossoms are sensitive to light and temperature and prefer to open during the cool of the evening, usually between 4 and 8 pm, and stay open all night long. Currently we are in the midst of a heat wave so they do not seem to be opening fully.

flower begins to open in evening

Flowers 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 but in my zone 7 garden, I can grow them as annuals that may not overwinter, dig and save the tubers for next year, or start new seed next year. 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, exactly 250 years ago to the month, he noted in his journal “Mirabilis just opened, very clever.”

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day occurs on the 15th of the month. Garden bloggers from around the world post their articles about blossoms in their garden.

pink four o’clocks at Monticello, early afternoon

You Can Grow Mache!

macheMache is simply a lettuce that likes cold weather. Easily grown from seed, mache is started in the autumn and allowed to grow during the winter until it gets too hot in the following spring and bolts (flowers). Like a bib lettuce, mache is a sweet, buttery tasting rosette set of leaves, low to the ground. The leaves are so sweet that a simple drizzle of vinaigrette is all that is needed for a salad.

Although mache leaves are starting to appear in the produce section of grocery stores, it is in fact an “old” edible. The French have been cultivating it since the 17th century, which is probably where Thomas Jefferson learned of it during his visits to France and started to grow it at Monticello. Also known as lamb’s lettuce and corn salad, mache is available from most seed catalogs that offer vegetables and lettuce.

I started my seeds at the end of August in large plastic containers on the deck because our Virginia August is so hot and dry that I wanted to be able to water consistently and easily with a watering can. Once the seedlings came up and the weather cooled down in October, I moved the transplants to a garden bed. This picture was taken in late January after many snow showers, icy rains, and temperatures in the teens. It will grow bigger as temperature and day length increases. I have heard it can tolerate zero degrees and I like the fact that I don’t need to cover it with a plastic hoop. Mache is very nutritious, it has more omega 3 than any other leafy green except for purslane and it contains lutein (promotes eye health). It is high in vitamin A, C, and zinc, and provides almost as much iron as spinach but does not contain spinach’s oxalic acid (oxalic acid interferes with calcium absorption). Don’t forget to include a package of mache seeds with your seed order this year. You Can Grow That!

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Gardeners usually post articles on their blog on the fourth day of the month (fourth day, four words: #1: You; #2: Can; #3: Grow; #4: That). Click on the logo below to read more posts.