But then something totally foreseeable happened: they started to go to seed. (Four o’clock seeds are notable because they look like little tiny hand grenades.) Anyway, I watched as the plants filled up with seeds and they stopped flowering. The leaves started turning yellow, as I recall. After all, once a plant has fulfilled its mission to reproduce, there’s not much of a point to its continuing to look pretty. Around September I decided to chop them off and get them to re-grow and re-flower, but it was too late in the season for them to do that. So we had only a few weeks of their gorgeousness. This summer I decided that I’d do the “small things” routine, and once they started going I dedicated 15-20 minutes every morning to picking off the dead blossoms and the seed pouch at the base. Wow, did we ever have four o’clocks! Even though I was rather late in getting them planted out what with the whole Gideon thing, they were great. Picking off the deadheads was sort of soothing. The above picture was taken after I’d started losing interest in keeping them going (or anything much else in the garden, to be honest). They’d probably been neglected for about a week at this point. You can see lots of wilted blossoms, which don’t add much in the way of beauty, and you can also see a fat seed pod or two. There are some new buds, but pretty soon the seeds will take over. Jim and I went on a short trip back in August and I spent two hours deadheading when we got back. So you really have to keep up with them. When I make my gardening plans for next year I need to remember not to plant more of them than I can maintain, no matter how much I love them. Ah, the life lessons of the garden!
. . . matter more than the big things that you do once in awhile. I write about this principle in the chapter on, surprisingly, “The Big Effect of Small Actions.” Read that sample chapter here. The picture is a good illustration of this principle. It’s a shot of a plant called a “four o’clock,” something that gives you big return on a small investment, namely a seed. My mother used to grow these plants because she didn’t have much money. I’ve grown them several times but never liked the colors much. Last year I found a new variety, “Sunset Salmon,” from Park Seed, and they were just spectacular. We came home from our vacation to find them loaded with blossoms.