I’ve always thought petunias are a pathetic excuse for a flower — ubiquitous, obvious and scentless. During my childhood I could walk around the block and see no other bedding plant but petunias — they became a sort of real fake flower. When I started gardening I swore I wouldn’t give an inch of topsoil to a petunia, and I’ve kept that promise over decades, with a few slips, usually because a generous friend got carried away at the garden center.
I like to think of myself as a prole gardener — I don’t do “rooms” or white gardens or refuse to plant something that isn’t native to Illinois. I’m short on twee signage, and (sadly,) reflecting pools and water features. Zinnias, cosmos, nasturtiums, morning glories — I love those hardworking annuals! But petunias? I pass.
In fact I’ve considered them cheap and cheerful in the snarky Brit pejorative meaning of the phrase: the Tangee lipstick, the Jonathan Livingston Seagull , the Little Debbies of the garden.
I’ve mentioned here that I’m thrilled to be proved wrong about things I’ve disliked that give pleasure to millions of others. As of two days ago I’m a fan of the pusillanimous petunia, all because of the advances in petunia breeding. We’re no longer limited to blooms in Union Jack colors, with a few shades of yucky pink. (Honestly, how can a flower mess up pink? Petunias did, for ages.) Not all petunias are fuzzy anymore: flowers shouldn’t have the botanical equivalent of hairy legs. (Yes, I loathe gloxinias.) Those mad botanists who work for the seed companies have bred two new classes of petunia, the Double and the Spreading, both retaining the heat and dryness loving qualities of the Classic P, with real prettiness.
It’s ironic that I’ve been a petunia snob, because it belongs to the botanical family Solanaceae whose other members include chile peppers, potatoes, tomatoes and tobacco. When we went to the Planter’s Palette, (our incredible local nursery) a few days ago to get some summer color I sure wasn’t there for petunias. On the other hand, I wasn’t going to blow Lou’s birthday present to me on one pricey perennial. I noticed a couple of huge tables from afar — delicate pinks, blues, mauves and whites, all cheerful in the 90 degree sun that was plastering my wet hair and tshirt to my epidermis. Yeah, you knew: Double Petunias, 50% off.
They come in big pots and they’ll trail from hanging planters or cover a two foot circle planted in the garden. I bought one each white, pale blue,deep pink and white. I’m so infatuated that I’m going to buy more. These lovelies won’t whine in the dog days, wilting and shriveling — they’ll be happy with a pass from the watering can and light dead heading when I’m up to ten minutes of Midwestern heat and humidity. They’ll even survive a light early frost in October.
On this day of the World Cup Final: GOALLLLLLLLLLLL to Club Petunia, nil to silly old me.