Hartley Magazine

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Mirabilis Jalapa

The Marvel of Peru, the Four o clock or Tea time plant, Mirabilis jalapa was a great favourite in Victorian times but seldom known now. Which is a shame as it is one of the prettiest and most reliable performers you could try, and once got going almost bomb-proof. You see although you may occasionally come across it as a half hardy spot plant in a big bedding scheme it is as a tender greenhouse perennial it comes into it’s own. For it forms an over-wintering tuber which gets bigger and tougher each year and can be resurrected in spring for an earlier and much longer season of bloom. And it is one of those plants that really can fill your greenhouse with scent, sweetly so and quite orange blossom like. Mirabilis is an attractive plant anyway, the jointed somewhat succulent stems of dark green leaves are reminiscent of busy lizzies but the blooms are bigger and more trumpet shaped. Most often red, crimson or orange sometimes mauve these are gloriously¬† scented and start to open like clockwork from four pm, tea time, bloom on through the night exhaling more and more perfume. Further; each flower on a plant may not be identical, but a different shade or colour, there are even some where two or more colours are mixed in one flower, and not symmetrically but as if splashed by an artist. And you get a grand display from a remarkably robust plant that requires no special treatment other than the usual feeding and watering in any reasonably rich potting compost. Of course your tuber will need drying off as the light dims in autumn, it will go dormant very neatly; the blooming slows, the stems wither a bit then simply drop away easily breaking into discrete segments. Obviously you keep the tuber frost free in a cool dryish dark, I leave mine potted in the dried compost, and restart it again in spring. Once the last frosts are over it can be hardened off and moved outdoors- an established tuber in a big pot