There is always a plant that, like Marmite, you either love or loathe, and it appears that through the
ages the petunia has been this plant. As part of the Solanaceae family, it is closely related to the tobacco, cape gooseberry, tomato, potato, chilli pepper and deadly nightshade.
In the early sixteenth century when Queen Elizabeth I reigned, Spanish explorers in South America
discovered a low growing, trail forming, white flowered scented Axillaris, which in the Tupi-Guarani language was called Petun. This roughly translated from their language to the “worthless tobacco plant.” But, because of its perceived ugliness, the explorers did not think it was worth sending samples of it back to Spain. And ironically, anyone in Britain during the fifteen hundreds believed that the petunia was a symbol of the demonic power of satanism as it was reputed to harbour anger and resentment.
Petunia x hybridia ‘Sparklers’
Fast forward about three hundred years to Eighteen Twenty Three, during the reign of King George III. It’s just after the Napoleonic Wars and the French King, Joseph Bonaparte, (Napoleon’s Brother) has sent explores back to Argentina. This time they send samples of the plant back to Spain, where botanists confirmed the Indian name for it and place it in the tobacco family. Just a few years later there are records that state in 1831 the great Scottish Explorer John (James) Tweedie was exploring the Americas, and he came across another genus of the Petunia the Violacea which is purple in colour. He too, took specimens of the plant and he sent them to the Glasgow Botanical Gardens.
Tweedie is also listed as a collector for the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens and out of the 35 genus of petunia, there is one named after him. Petunia Tweedia. Categorised as a Grandiflora the series is an example of this genus. He is an extraordinary and inspiring person and there is more about him in part two of this blog. In the late eighteen hundreds breeders, especially in England Germany, America and Japan began crossing the sample of petunias they had in search of more varied colours and larger petals. These early crossings were referred to as Petunia X Hybrida although they were not strictly hybrids.
In Nineteen Hundred a well known American Seed company noted in their sales catalogue that
double petunias only occurred in twenty to thirty percent of petunias grown from seed. Moving to Nineteen Thirty Four, a mere eighty two years ago, when King George IV reigned, the Japanese once again came to the forefront of petunia breeding, by being the first to breed the consistently double petunia. They had managed to understand and apply Mendel’s Third Law of Dominance. (In a cross between two organisms pure for any pair [pairs] of contrasting characteristics the character that appears in the F1 generation is called the dominant one).* So now you know why so many seed packets have an F1 hybrid on them.
There are also F2 type Petunias and T&M’s Petunia Rainbow is an example of these. It does not mean that it is a lesser plant, it just means that its the seeds collected and grown from a F1 parent. To read more on the differences between F1 and F2 plants I would recommend you read the info pages on the T&M website. Within the same decade, German seed companies bred Grandiflora Petunias looking for colour diversity, and in the late Nineteen Thirties the American Charles Weddle discovered the fact doubleness was a dominant gene and by crossing a true double with a suitable petunia would result in seeds that would only produce double flowers.
Queen Elizabeth II is crowned in Nineteen Fifty Three and breeders are still trying to find the perfect petunia, Firstly there is Claude Hope who releases the F1 hybrid cultivator Connache. He is instrumental in the producing of the hybridisation of the single and double Grandiflora and Multiflora strains we see today, In addition there is Fred Statt who we must thank for breeding disease and weather resistant plants. In Nineteen Eighty Three a new class of petunias called Floribunda are created. In 1995 Petunia ‘Purple Wave’ is introduced and in 1996 the Milliflora is bred.
So that’s a brief history of how the petunia emigrated from Argentina to Britain, but I was curious about the life of John (James) Tweedie so read the rest of my history of the Petunia in Part Two.
The T&M spring catalogues arrived this week and I am so excited! I have been choosing my plants for the summer customer trials. I shall concentrate my efforts on two areas – patio containers and hanging baskets and our allotment and greenhouse.
Petunia ‘Cremissimo’, ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ and Begonia ‘Garden Angels’
The theme on our patio is exotic, with year round interest provided by abutilons, ferns, fatsias, phormiums and heucheras so I have planned my selection to complement that: everything citrus coloured including NEW Petunia ‘Cremissimo’ – if its anything like last year’s ‘Peach Sundae’ then it’s going to be stunning! NEW Calibrachoa ‘Kabloom Terracotta’, NEW Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ and NEW Begonia ‘Garden Angels’, which look like heucheras-on-steroids! I am also going to try my hand at growing Ricinus Communis ‘Impala‘ from seed, Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ bulbs & NEW Curcuma ‘Twister’ tuber to go with the potted ginger lilies and cannas.
Calibrachoa ‘Kabloom Terracotta’, Ricinus communis ‘Impala’ and Curcuma ‘Twister’
In the greenhouse we have room for half a dozen cordon tomatoes and a couple of cucumbers, so this year we’re trying Tomato ‘Tutti Fruitti Collection’ for a change, but are sticking to Cucumber ‘Cucino’ as I haven’t found a mini cucumber to rival its productivity. I am fascinated at the thought of edible fuchsia berries so we are having a go at the NEW Fuchsia Berry. More modest trials for the allotment due to time constraints makes us focus on the more unusual, so after tastings at the T&M Trials Open Day last summer, we will try growing Cucamelon ‘Melothria’, Squash [Patty Pans] ‘Summer Mix’ and Courgette ‘De Nice A Fruit Rond’.
Tomato ‘Rainbow Blend’ Cumcumber ‘Cucino’ and Fuchsia Berry
Of course I couldn’t stop there without buying a couple of things that I have no room for, so NEW Brunnera ‘Alexander’s Great’ and Digitalis ‘Illumination Ruby Slippers’are on the list too!
David has been busy too, adding a small living wall to the front garden display; an area by our front door of about W:25cms x H:40cm with room for about 16 plants. It’s a north facing aspect so more ferns & grasses, and maybe a couple of hostas and herbs. Installing a drip irrigation system should be easy as the tap is situated conveniently right underneath.
The new planting scheme out front is settling in well, spring bulbs are coming up throughout and I have added a beautiful Hellebore ‘Spring Promise’ and a couple more ferns. David succeeded in finding two lovely tall containers to go either side of the front door for my Christmas present. Once installed securely I planted each one with chinodoxa bulbs for spring colour, three huge tree lilies for summer colour, infant contorted willows for year round interest (these quick growers will have to come out when we can no longer get through the front door) and hakonechloa aurea grass for good measure! Think I’ve been a bit too over-enthusiastic but hey, what the heck. David has created some unique lights too which are attracting lots of comments – using recycled bottles and jars.
Caroline’s house and front garden
Today it has snowed for the first time this winter, and a long time coming too! But never to be distracted from my plant addiction I’m off to the garden centre for my ferns and grasses! Watch this space……..
Children from St. Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Woodbridge grow our famous Tomtato®’s
St. Mary’s Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School in Woodbridge, Suffolk received a handful of our wonderful Tomtato® plants for free. We did this to encourage and educate the children about growing their own vegetables and the enjoyment this can bring. They lovingly grew their Tomtato®’s and sent us a letter thanking us for the plants which we gave for free, and telling us how they got on. The letter was from three of the class Rebecca, Charlotte and Ettie.
Letter from St Mary’s School Woodbridge
They also provided photographs of the plants, from which they had a bumper harvest. All the tomatoes and potatoes were then shared out between the growers and the class, so that each child was able to take some home to their parents and carers. The remainder of the produce was sold to the teachers and staff, who all said the tomatoes and potatoes were scrumptious!
St Mary’s and Tomtato® Growing
This exercise has hopefully shown the children and parents that growing your own fruit and vegetables is neither difficult nor time consuming. It brings great rewards and shows everyone how to become self sustaining, as we all know that home grown is best.
St Mary’s and Tomtato® Fully Grown
The children seemed to have a lot of fun and lets hope we can encourage more children to grow their own fruit and vegetables.
Thank you St. Mary’s Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School in Woodbridge for your lovely letter and super photographs.
I am so pleased to announce that Thompson & Morgan have allowed me to come back and write a new series about my garden entitled Another Year in the Greenhouse. To be honest, I thought I made so many basic greenhouse mistakes that they would run screaming to the hills. However, it was quite the opposite; they said they liked to hear about the failures as well as the successes; after all I am not a trained gardener. I’m just an ordinary person with an office job, who likes to escape into the greenhouse whenever I can.
I really hope I don’t make such silly mistakes though. Last year I thought it would be so easy to erect a second greenhouse and apply the same principles that I had to the original smaller one. Unfortunately I didn’t think about how the light would fall, how the sun moved on a different course or how the slope of the garden would make it look like I was standing at an angle even though the base was perfectly level, giving me horrible vertigo especially after a severe dose of Labrynthitis.
The Labrynthitis, was my worst gardening problem as it lasted months, I would stand in the greenhouse with my eyes squeezed shut hoping that I wouldn’t go crashing into the plants or glass, all the while thinking I can’t give in, I have plants to grow and a blog to write!
So this year my resolution is to do a better job than I did last year. At least I have a good amount of spring flowers and bulbs growing healthily already in them. With the extremely mild winter that we have so far had, the Californian Poppies have developed strong roots, and although they are currently a bit sleepy there does look like fresh green leaves on them.
I have no idea how the Yarrows will be potted on as they went from tiny seedlings to plug plants practically overnight. The roots are so tangled I could end up damaging them, I think the best thing I can do is to put them in bigger pots in one root ball as soon as possible and start hardening them off in February, then plant them in the old hollyhock patch in Spring.
After reading many different articles on the best time to sow sweet peas, I thought I would try a September sowing to see for myself if they would last through the dark months. Amazingly they have, although during late December I had to keep nipping the tops as they were getting too tall. They have now put out side shoots that should develop extra flowers in the summer. I only planted two seeds as I didn’t want to waste them if it went wrong, now I wish I had grown more. January is also a very good time to start off sweet peas so I am considering growing some more.
Bo t h my mum and Mark’s parents gave me garden related Christmas gifts, two sets of hanging shelves for the big greenhouse and some clever cane grips that mean I can create wigwams without having to fight with the string and scissor. So one of the first jobs Mark did this month was to wash all of the glass again because the salt laden winds have really taken its toll, and the second job was to put the shelves up. They only useful thing I did was make the tea stand in the greenhouse so he sees if I could reach them or not. My being five foot has its advantages, in that he didn’t have to stretch very far or use a step ladder to get the shelves at the height I wanted.
A quick inventory of the small greenhouse consists of the above mentioned plants plus, a red geranium that is still flowering since September, a tomato plant, two pots of Nigella, two tiny Broccoli seedlings, a spiky cactus that I forgot to bring indoors, five Aloe Vera’s, a Spider Plant that is too big for indoors, and a Thyme cutting. In the border of the small greenhouse was Spinach Beet that had got seriously big and bitter tasting so we pulled it up, as I have a new plan for this border. I will definitely grow Spinach Beet again though in the autumn as it’s so reliable and tasty. In the large greenhouse I have a Bell Pepper that is still trying to produce fruits. I don’t know if you can grow peppers for more than one year but this one hasn’t died off so, I keep picking off and composting the tiny fruit in the hope that I can move it to a sunnier spot in the greenhouse. Also overwintering is my large Aloe Vera and a Money Plant. I had hoped to utilise the space more in the winter but a late slug attack meant my cauliflowers and cabbage seedlings were destroyed.
My final jobs for January will be to start washing my slightly dusty pots, sieve the garden centre bought compost and plant some more seeds. This month is ideal for starting off Snap Dragons, Geraniums, Dianthifolia and Pennisetum and Salad leaves. I will be growing all of these from seed plus two others that I am hugely excited about. One is the half hardy shrub Banksia Hookeriana which will eventually replace a dying broom. The other is a Cycad. A truly magical greenhouse fern. I say this because when I was sent the seeds last year from Thompson & Morgan I had no idea what it was. I had to go on their website to find out and it amazed me. The cycad is a fossil, it was on Earth long before the dinosaurs, it has lived through millions of years of climate change, and evolution. It’s hard to believe I have a seed in my hands that is so ancient and yet so new. I was telling a friend about it and I said I was worried about accidentally destroying something so historically valuable. Don’t get me wrong the seeds are not hugely expensive and it’s not a rare endangered fern as the seeds wouldn’t be for sale, I just meant that I hope I can be trusted to grow something that has been around forever without getting it wrong. I think I will be doing some more research though before I open the packet though.
Finally, if I have whetted your appetite for seed sowing, then take advantage of the January sales, there are often offers for half price or even free packets or seeds. This month Thompson & Morgan are offering readers of a National Magazine twelve packets of free seeds for £3.20 P&P. They include vegetables, flowers for cutting and flowers for wildlife. I’m tempted are you?
Until next month.
Petunia Hanging Basket
I love petunias, they are so bright and colourful and make beautiful displays in hanging baskets and containers. I use mainly baskets and containers in my garden which are displayed on my decking at the front of my house during the summer.
This year I wanted to do something different with the petunias. Our local football team AFC Bournemouth had been promoted to the Premier League so I decided to do something in their honour. I have a stand with three baskets, small, medium and large which stands by my front door. The Bournemouth colours are black and red so I bought some red double petunias and was able to find some single black petunias which looked just like velvet. I planted them and stood back to await the results. Bournemouth Football club sent me a digital photo of their emblem which I enlarged and put in the window at the side of the petunias. It caused interest amongst neighbours especially those who were supporters including two of my grandchildren. As you see on the photo I had a hanging basket with the same petunias in just to the right of the stand and they ended up in growing together.
I also grew some very different petunias, a cerise colour with very light leaves which really showed up the colour of the flower and lasted for most of the summer. Another idea I had was to grow red, white and blue petunias for the fence baskets which worked out very well, and also a red, white and blue triple hanging basket. Red in the top, white in the middle and blue in the bottom basket.
I have also had success with growing petunias in hanging bags but have learnt from previous disappointments that when I have planted up the bag is to leave it lying flat until they are settled. This seemed to work much better for me this year. I really like the new kind of petunia which graduates from white in the centre to a deeper colour middle to top of the flower. A couple of years ago I tried some climbing petunias – Petunia ‘Tidal Wave’ – which were very successful.
Petunia in hanging bag
Of course it hasn`t all been success, I got up one morning only to find that the dripper from the watering system had fallen out of one of the baskets and the strong winds we had dried it out completely. Although I tried very hard to save it I wasn`t able to, and another basket this happened to, I had to cut them right back, soaked it in a bucket of water and in about a month they were all flowering again, so at 77 I still have to ‘live and learn`!
This year I bought some petunias called Petunia ‘Peach Sundae’ they were beautiful shades of yellow, orange and peach. They lasted throughout the whole summer no matter what the weather did, including some torrential rain and hailstones but after a few days they all just bounced back again.
Petunia ‘Peach Sundae’
I am now wondering which petunias I shall plant for this coming year? Roll on summer I say.