STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS BLOMME
Debatably nothing more colourful and invigorating can surpass the splash of colours that hit us at the greenhouses than the choices provided by petunias. We choose them for our home pots, gardens, household corners and front steps.
Reds, pinks, yellows, whites, combinations and my favourite, deep purple, just bring out the best in brightening up a place. The plants are fairly resilient, perhaps even green “thumb less,” as long as they get an adequate water supply as the season progresses. A bonus with this group is that they never seem to stop producing new shoots and flowers with good light and decent soil. They can be grown from seeds, shoots or the default, quick purchase.
Many petunias are cultivated hybrids, plants selected for certain traits and reproduced with those traits. Certain types can be planted in hanging baskets as a spreading (growing) or cascading plant, hiding the container they have been placed in, and billowing out with growth. Others can gradually spread within the ground planters or be confined within the defined boundaries of your garden composition. They can come in the form of grandiflora, large-headed flowers; or multiflora, smaller but more numerous flower heads. Two other forms include the milliforma, even smaller flowers, and the spreading petunia which provides good ground cover.
The petunia has some interesting beginnings. It is one of the plants whose scientific genus name is the same as its common name. Word origins are always fascinating. The name petunia comes from a dialect word petun, meaning tobacco. The plants originated from South America. Petunias are cousins of the tomatoes, potatoes, tobacco and chillingly the deadly nightshade.
Petunias attract a number of butterflies during the day and moths such as the sphinx during the evening. Petunias require insects to pollinate them, ensuring the pollen is transferred to the stigma, a requirement for seed development.
Last but not least don’t forget to deadhead. This is the removal of dying or dried flower heads so that the seed production is curtailed and more flower heads form. It also makes for a more attractive display.