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.