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Late Bloomers in a Dim Year

Much of this growing season has been so rainy and cloudy, plants all over my garden complained for lack of sun. 'Fragrant Bouquet' hosta, which normally blooms in midsummer, is blooming at the beginning of October! Photoperiodism relies on plant chemicals which react to specific wavelengths of light. Cloud cover can change the wavelengths that make it to earth.

But hardest hit were annuals that I rely on to self-seed, and need warm soil to germinate. It took a lot longer this year. I didn't see any seedlings of verbena-on-a-stick until mid-September; I doubt any will get big enough to flower. I wonder how long those seeds stay viable; will I have to replenish my soil seed bank by buying?

Purple-bronze-leaved perilla finally sprouted mid-July; cream-and-purple flower-of-an-hour about the first of August — though not next to each other, as I keep hoping when I throw their seeds around together. Perilla also didn't come back where I'd planted some last year in the middle of Feesey's form ribbon grass (green, white and pink: another great color companion for perilla). Probably this grass (like many) is allelopathic, and suppressed the perilla.

Wherever it has come up, I've let perilla grow this year, even if it doesn't really fit there — to get more seeds returned to the garden. I'm enjoying watching one grow big and bushy where it emerges from a 3/8-inch crack between concrete pavers in the main path down the back garden. I have to walk around it, but it makes me chuckle.

Flower-of-an-hour (Hibiscus trionum), a tropical plant, really likes it hot, and grows fast in the dog days of summer. Two-inch wide trumpets, in that silvery yellow I'm a sucker for, have deep brown-purple in the throat. The backs of the petals bear purple splotches, which show prominently in bud. Individual flowers last a couple of days; in shade — or if it's cloudy — they twirl closed like an umbrella, displaying the purple. Perennial in USDA zones 9 and 10, the plants die here after a few frosts.

In the bed I renovated this year, where hardy perennials are getting established more slowly, H. trionum has filled in the gaps. After I'd given up hope of seeing those mercurial flowers, now they're flashing their wide bright eyes at me in the welcome sun of this late warm fall.

Photo by C.H. Clark - Bud, back and face of flower-of-an-hour

Text and photo © Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 14 October 2005

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