Modesto, CA | If you mention four o’clock to Bob and Betty Cole, they’re not likely to look at their watches. Instead, Bob and Betty will probably open their front door and lead you into a quaint front yard where four-o’clock perennials have grown for one-hundred years.
Bob, 74, has spent most of his life in the 1865 house where his grandparents raised him on two acres. As a young boy, Bob and other children living nearby played where high-traffic streets now run along the Cole’s property. “As kids, we used to herd the chickens around the yard through all the four o’clocks,” Bob said, relaxing in his recliner. “We’d get in trouble. We thought we were cowboys. I’m sure we knocked over a few four o’clocks.”
In addition to chickens, Bob’s grandparents cultivated the property for dietary nourishment. There was a large vegetable garden and trees (orange, grapefruit, fig, apricot, pomegranate, plum, walnut, and olive) planted in the 1800’s. Some of the trees are still thriving, still yielding seasonal produce.
When Bob married Betty, he moved with his bride across town where they had two sons. Several years later (after Bob’s grandparents died) Bob moved back in his grandparents’ house with Betty and their sons, the youngest an infant and the oldest ten. “They say you can never go back home,” Bob commented then laughed. “I never really left.”
By then, the area was no longer country territory. Subdivisions had developed around the two-acre lot. Eventually, on much of the land south of the house, Bob constructed apartments which he still owns and manages. The Coles added a guesthouse and swimming pool beyond the original tank house (now used for garden tools) where snowflakes and paperwhites flower, and a hedge of creeping fig grows on a privacy fence. Staying within the period, the Coles extended the main house by approximately 1,000-square-feet. Although considered small, Bob and Betty’s home is as big and beautiful as the memories it holds.
Betty, who archives the family history with precision and deep appreciation, also tends the four o’clocks and surrounding garden areas. At first, after the Coles moved into the house, Betty wanted to do her “own thing” where the four o’clocks grow. However, Betty said the plants fought back telling her to, “Leave us alone! We belong here.” Today, the four o’clocks remain rooted in history behind a white picket fence. Every summer tiny yellow, red, and white flowers bloom as if it was their first season.
Eventually, Betty found the west side of the yard receptive to her garden desires. There, Betty can plant whatever she wants. Some of these include daffodils, centranthus, feverfew, bluebells, alyssum, and lavender. Betty say’s her garden starts to bloom in December, first with violets followed by paperwhites (also 100 years old), then snowflakes. By Christmas, flag irises (another original plant on the property) are in bloom.
Betty says she could spend eight hours a day gardening. Is it any wonder, with so much ancestral history coming up from the earth? The rewards are vast. Whether gardening or sitting on the front porch, the Coles easily recall loved ones at the whiff of an old-fashioned plant or at the seasonal return of one-hundred-year-old four o’clock perennials. Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre
Four O’clock Data:
Reproduces by seed
Tuberous root system
Blooms throughout summer.
Reaches three to four feet tall.
Commonly grown as an annual.
A favorite of black bumblebees, and in European gardens.
Flowers open late afternoon and close early the following morning.