I was wandering through the garden center looking for something to put together a pretty bowl of flowers for the table this week. Sometimes I use traditional cut flowers; other times, I select a few bedding plants which can go from the table arrangement into containers on the patio or beds in the landscape. As the sweat rolled, the Clown flowers called to me as they bloomed prettily in the sun and heat.
Wishbone or Clown flower is known as Torenia fournieri to horticulturists. This is a lovely choice for warm-season gardens, which originated in Vietnam. It is a low-growing, well-branched herbaceous plant closely related to Snapdragons. Torenia has simple leaves which are thick with the veins deeply impressed. The leaves are up to 2 inches long, held opposite each other on the stem, and elliptical with serrated margins. The plant’s overall shape is low and mounding.
The flowers are reminiscent of snapdragons. They are tubular and somewhat trumpet-shaped, the upper petal divided into 2 spreading lobes, the lower petal into 3 spreading lobes. Each flower is produced in clusters near the end of the branches surrounded by green or purple outer petals. Velvety in texture, the blooms may be pink, white, lavender, purple, blue, or white. Fruits follow the flowers and are capsules that hold many tiny seeds though they are not often produced in cultivation.
Sunny sites are best for Clown flowers, though a bit of afternoon shade during the hot summer will help prevent the plant’s melting. Well-drained but moist sandy soils are preferred; they grow and bloom best with regular irrigation.
The Clown flower is a durable, often overlooked plant for warm landscapes. Its cheery flowers appear throughout the year. Use it in beds and containers. It will not tolerate frost but does well until the temperatures are scorching and the humidity very high late in the summer.
After planting, pinch the branch tips of young plants to increase bushiness and deadhead (remove) old blooms to encourage continued blooming. Some new varieties do not require deadheading. The size of a mature plant is 8 to 12 inches tall and wide, so install plants 8 inches on center so they will fill the bed or pot.
Wishbone flowers tend to be heavy feeders; use a slow-release product according to the label or a dilute liquid fertilizer often. Apply mulch to new plants to suppress weeds, cool the soil, and conserve moisture. Many landscapers do not use mulch in annual beds because it must be pulled back to replant, but the benefits are worth the trouble, in my opinion.
Plant Clown flowers that laugh at the heat in your summer garden, and you too can laugh at the heat as they bloom away.
This article first appeared in the Treasure Coast Newspapers.