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Desert Four O'clocks

Additional Reading

When Clara recovered from the headache of spending $100 and a day of her life planting “blacklisted plants,” she shifted gears. What plants were friendly to the desert Southwest? As she looked around when first moving to Northern Arizona, observation indicated the thing to do was to bring a little of “home” to the desert—Minnesota, Missouri, Massachusetts? She wondered if only people from “M” states desired verdant gardens…It took awhile to remember neighbors from Wyoming, Wisconsin and Washington—all “W’s”.

“This is insane!” she grumbled. “How am I supposed to know what to do? I don’t remember any county, city or homeowner association guidelines that explain the state’s ‘banned botanicals’! Where was the page that said gardening would be so hard?”

She laughed out loud, catching herself whining about playing in the dirt, the most primitive and benign of all pastimes, useful for its contemplative qualities as well as its products.

Just then a beautiful photograph caught her eye. Such a profusion of fuchsia she imagined could only exist in the tropics…She picked up the nursery insert…”What are these? They seem vaguely familiar.” She flashed back to her grandmother sitting on the front porch snapping beans in the late afternoon, around 4:00.

“That’s it! Four o’clocks!” Pleased with her natural recall, she scoured the ad for confirmation, just in case! Mirabilis froebelii, Desert Four O’clock. It was so similar to the four o’clocks she’d known as a child, she wondered about the word “desert.”

Clara quickly looked them up on the Internet, just to make sure they were native. Being misled once by well-meaning nursery professionals was enough for her. As with healthcare, she calculated she was the only one responsible for her environment.

“Hmmm…look at this, Hon,” she announced. “These flowers don’t have petals. The ‘flower’ part is actually part of the sepal. Can you believe that? I wonder if you can cut them and put them in a vase?”
“Why don’t you read more about it?” asked Syd, hoping to get back to the morning paper.

“Yes, it says there are 5-7 buds in each star-shaped green cup. The leaves are heart-shaped on sticky stems. How romantic is that?” She was careful to wonder silently whether they smelled as good as her grandma’s did.

In fact, she thought she’d seen some in the neighborhood, but hadn’t known then what they were. The article said they grew from seeds or tubers…maybe she could strike up a friendship and save $3. (Her Scottish blood ran close to the surface.)

“Attracts humming birds and butterflies,” she mouthed silently, remembering her priorities differed from her partner’s. “Blooms not according to the clock, but rather according to sun, shade and temperature approximating 4:00 in some locations. In parts of N. Arizona, it may be seen blooming both morning and evening.”

“Ahhh…there is a God,” Clara sighed joyfully. “Now where can I get my four o’clock starts for April blooming?”
Lin Ennis is a freelance writer and amateur naturalist in Sedona, Arizona. Please email your comments or suggestions to nature@linennis.com.


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