More is better

The season is old enough by now to determine what has been a flop, in this unusually warm and dry year, and what has been good. A lot of plants have had unnaturally brief seasons of bloom and although some plants are still healthy they were not as good as usual. Peonies usually do well here but the later herbaceous kinds really suffered in the dry heat and the flowers were either small or did not open properly. But the plants are fine and there is always next year.

I have waxed lyrical before (although not for 8 years) about marvel of Peru (Mirabilis jalapa) but it is definitely one of the stars of this summer. I grew a batch last year, which were delightful and I raised some more from seed again this year. It was not till I went to plant out the youngsters that I discovered that the roots of the old plants had not died in the cold, as so often happens, but were sprouting. Not only that but, in a few areas, the shed seeds were actually sprouting. I would expect the thick, carrot-like roots to survive in sandy soils but mine is rather heavy and can lie wet in winter and I cannot take it for granted that mirabilis will get through a winter. But all went well this season.

The original seeds were ‘Marbles’ which is a mix of stripey flowers. Mirabilis are strange in that the plants can have flowers of different colours on the same plant. It is certainly curious but I am not obsessed about that. I am happy with the fragrant flowers, which open in the late afternoon and close in mid-morning. I really need to mark some of my favourite colours and at least take seeds from them. Some are a delicious watermelon colour but I have to say that I like the pure yellow and pure white – perfect to add to the lemon meringue garden. Behind the clump, above, is Nicotiana ‘Marshmallow’. This was planted last year but a few plants survived the winter too and these slowly recovered and are now great clouds of pink flowers that just add to the vibrancy of this section of the border.

Mirabilis are best sown in gentle heat in March and planted out in late May. They will then bloom by late July and plants make large bushes, with a neat, rounded habit, about 1m high, less in poorer soils. They are effective garden plants that suit herbaceous borders and fill lots of space. Their mounded, dense habit makes them good for smothering weeds but but it does mean they can also swamp neighbouring plants.

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4 Comments on “More is better”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    August 21, 2022 at 11:45 am #

    We grew Mirabilis as a filler plant when we came to the garden first and they lasted for a good number of years as we replaced them bit by bit by other things raised from seed. A great plant.

    • thebikinggardener
      August 21, 2022 at 12:12 pm #

      They are one of those plants that is never really taken very seriously and usually sold as roots by disreputable companies and rarely by garden centres. I think it is a shame because, although they are far from perfect, they have merit.

    August 21, 2022 at 12:37 pm #


  3. tonytomeo
    August 21, 2022 at 5:02 pm #

    My colleague and I have the same childhood memories about this perennial migrating into our respective neighborhoods 350 miles apart. It had likely always lived somewhere within each neighborhood, and naturalized in both at about the same time. When it first became apparent, it was all bright pink and fragrant in the evening. After a few generations, we noticed the other less fragrant colors. I was very pleased to find white, but eventually realized that the other colors and mixed colors were prettier.

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