You can’t exactly set your watch by the colorful four o’clocks in your summer garden, but their timing is pretty good.
The bloom time of four o’clocks
(Mirabilis jalapa) is said to correspond to changes in light and temperature, so they open in
the cool of the evening, usually between about four and eight p.m., or a bit earlier on cloudy
Their abundant, trumpet-shaped blooms may be bright yellow, white, magenta, or wonderfully
striped or splashed with pink, orange, or yellow. Sometimes several flower colors can be seen
on the same plant. The flowers are fragrant, with a scent that is both lemony and sweet, and
hummingbirds and moths are attracted to them.
Four o’clocks are easy to grow from seed. Plants get to be two or three feet tall in sunny
spots or in part shade, and they bloom from midsummer until frost. In relatively warm-winter
climates, four o’clocks will come back every year from tubers that overwinter in the ground.
Seedlings can be a nuisance, but sometimes they find their way to the most interesting places
in the garden, and plants you don’t want are easy to weed out when they’re small.
Four o’clocks are old-fashioned favorites for a commuter’s garden, says Peter Loewer, author of
The Evening Garden and an expert on the flowers that bloom from dusk until dawn. Moonflowers, evening primrose, flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata), some
tropical water lilies, and even a few daylilies also bloom in the evening,
which makes them nice choices for around a patio, where you can enjoy their flowers after you
get home from work. They’re especially pretty on moonlit nights, and in the flash of
Flowers around the clock
Morning glories and
most daylilies are among the first
flowers to open on a summer day, and poppies, zinnias, and marigolds follow along early in the day. By
noon, the morning glories have usually closed up shop. When evening comes, it’s time for the four o’clocks, moonflowers, creamy-white tuberoses, and other night bloomers — many
of them fragrant. Phlox, flowering tobacco, and lilies are all especially fragrant in the
evening, but if you’re up early, you may also catch a whiff of them, and of your four o’clocks,
on your way to work in the morning.