Petunias pretty en masse

By Beatrice Hawkins

Congratulations to the council’s Parks and Gardens staff for the great displays of petunias that are about in our city at present. The massed display of white near the cenotaph looks wonderful as do the many displays on roundabouts and street corners.

Petunias are really a love or hate plant. They are not a good flower for picking or display but mass plantings look spectacular and will continue for months with very little trouble other than dead-heading to promote more flowers. While they are frost-tender when young, once established they are very tolerant of conditions – weather and soils! I have finally removed and replaced some I planted about this time last year. The spreading plants sold as Calibrachoas are still performing brilliantly two years on.

Most petunias are grown from seed but Calibrachoas can be grown from stem cuttings, so you can be sure to get the colour you admire. The one doing so well in my garden is a deep purple and just a blanket of flowers spilling over the edge of a low retaining wall. It is so successful and maintenance-free I am going to visit a nursery and plant some more. As they flower so freely they don’t require dead-heading to provide a spectacular display.

They are also a spectacular plant in a hanging basket if you have an area in the sun to have these.

Petunias originated in South America and were introduced into Europe in the 1800s, where they were readily adopted as a decorative garden plant.

Depending on the variety they can grow from six inches to four feet high, but I have never run across any that grow that tall. The size of the flowers can vary widely and with modern breeding techniques so can the colours and markings, and they come in single or double flowers.

The name comes from a Brazilian word for tobacco as it is genetically related to tobacco, chilli and tomatoes!

The flower meaning for petunias is “I’m furious!”, so be careful giving them in a bouquet or even as a plant! However it does depend on the circumstances because the other very contradictory meaning is, “Time in your presence is peaceful and soothing”! Also it can be a symbol of not giving up hope, so from what I can find out they are flower for all occasions and all situations! The message conveyed also depends on the colour of the flower given, but we were not living in Victorian times when these things were more widely known and held more significance so I would not be too concerned – in my experience any flowers are always appreciated!

If you have a sunny, well-drained spot in your garden they will provide reliable colour for a long period with little care. While they are frost-sensitive my experience in this area has been that once established they are right. My daughter in the southern areas has a different experience!

My veggie garden is progressing and the snow peas are producing. I cleaned up and harvested all the prickly cucumbers that grew. They had spread over an area of lawn and it was a bit of a mess but I found dozens sheltered in the long grass. The cabbages are starting to form hearts and the Bok Choy is being used. I was given a tip by a friend the other day when I was complaining about cabbage butterflies causing damage. Apparently Pak Choy is great as a sacrificial plant – the caterpillars prefer it to the usual brassicas and will gladly eat it instead of the cabbages, cauliflowers or broccoli!

Don’t forget to get your tickets from Danny Lyons for the bus trip to the Esk Garden and Lifestyle Fair on June 16th.

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