If you like fragrant plants, the old-fashioned Four Oclock will be one of your favorites. Small pink blooms scent the garden with their sweet perfume every evening during summer. Mirabilis jalapa is a shrub-like multibranched perennial plant that emerges each spring from a large carrot-shaped tuber. The common name Four Oclock comes from its fascinating habit of opening its blooms around 4 oclock in the afternoon. That alone is enough to intrigue me, since I have a natural interest in plants with unusual traits. Although it's called Four Oclock, in our garden Mirabilis actually opens her blooms around 5:30 pm, perfuming the air right about the time it begins to cool off enough to sit in the shade on the patio.
Four Oclock is very easy to grow. Easy to please, four oclock can be grown in sun or shade. Our plants get morning sun and afternoon shade, but four oclock grows equally well in full shade with a reasonable amount of water. She's not a water hog, but good soil with regular water will keep the plant looking healthy and green with plenty of those fragrant blooms. Just so you'll know, plants in our shade garden get very little water, yet still bloom and multiply with profusion. Plants in the sun that receive occasional water perform just about as well as those in dry shade. The few Four Oclocks we have in dry sun are just surviving.
I can't really describe the fragrance--it's just a sweet, pleasant scent that invites me to relax outdoors. You might not notice the scent until your plant gets large with many blooms. And if you're never outdoors in the evening, well...you'll just miss out entirely.
Another important feature of the fragrant Four Oclock is that hummingbirds just adore it! The hot pink blooms are tubular and full of nectar for both butterflies and hummingbirds. You'll further enjoy sitting on the patio observing the tiny creatures flitting about around the plants.
Four Oclock dies to the ground with the onset of winter in colder zones, but re-emerges again in late spring. Hardy in USDA Zones 7-11, mirabilis can be grown anywhere in the southern half of the United States.
I must tell you also that Four Oclock is definitely a reseeder. Toward the end of summer you'll notice small black cannonballs on the plants and the ground beneath. Those are very viable seeds. If you've had no luck growing Four Oclock from seed, that's because these very hard seeds need a cold treatment to break them. It's best to plant them in fall, but most gardeners don't think about it then and seeds often are not available in the big box stores at that time of year. You'll have nearly instant gratification if you go ahead and purchase a tuber instead. Heavy black carrot-shaped tubers will send up a stem very quickly after planting in warm summer soil. Four Oclock tubers are available for summer shipping from Shady Gardens Nursery.