Jennifer StackhousePetunia, you pet

You’ve got to take your hat off to petunias. Does anything else in the garden offer such ease of growth and such colour? I know many gardeners heap scorn on these plants, but I’ve always had a soft spot for these summer annuals.

Sure they can look gaudy, especially en masse, and I don’t think JK Rowling did them any favours when she named Harry Potter’s dreadful aunt Petunia Dursley, but I’ve been acquiring them to inject a bit of colour into my garden.

It started with an empty hanging basket and some petunias for sale (four pots for $10) at my local fruit shop. Then I found a couple of extra hanging baskets (with linings) so we bought more punnets of petunias, lobelias and alyssum to fill these. I’ve gone way past “a bit of colour” with what’s turned into curtain of colour from some rather ‘in your face baskets of petunias and geraniums.

After a few weeks the original basket is in full growth. That’s what I like when I garden – instant gratification – and the others are growing by the day.

We tried to stick to single colours and harmonious blends selecting shades of plum, purple, pink and white but some red ones snuck in somehow from a rather bedraggled punnet my husband found at the local nursery.

These red ring-ins are the new Shock Wave petunias from United Nurseries, which are supposed to fill hanging baskets and pots fast. The punnets Jim bought really should have been on the throw-out heap (lanky and very dried out – what was he thinking), but a good soak in a bucket of water (with added Seasol) seems to have revived them.

I find soaking any plant in one of the seaweed solutions before it’s planted helps avoid transplant shock and gets plants, particularly seedlings off to a good start. Soaking also ensures the root balls are moist all the way through before they are planted out into the ground or a pot.

Old favourite

The petunia I really love is the double, frilled trailing one in crushed lavender and purple velvet tones with veining that my mother used to grow. This style of petunia went out of favour for a while, but I notice there is a good selection of double and frilled petunias around – but none of them seem quite as lovely as those I remember. And of course I’ve already filled five hanging baskets with single flowered varieties so I’d be really overdosing on petunias if I plant any more. May be next year.

Heat-proof summer annuals

Apart from their brilliant colour, I also like petunias because they are tolerant of both heat and humidity. Even if they are hit by a hot dry gusty day, or a heavy storm, most bounce back without too much damage.

The best heatproof petunias are those with smaller flowers as these generally cope with both the high temperatures and the wet of summer.

Another flower I like in a hanging basket is lobelia. I’ve long been a fan of ‘String of Pearls’, but some new varieties I spied recently at a nursery really stopped me in my tracks. First up I had to check they were lobelias, not fan flowers (Scaevola), but they were indeed lobelias.

They were the new variety called Techno Heat. These ones were mass planted in 25cm baskets and they were in full flower. Their intensely coloured violet, white, dark blue and a light blue (really blue and white colour) flowers looked wonderful. As well as the pretty colour range, the flower size and their perky attitude really set them apart from the normal trailing lobelia, which does tend to be more demure and retiring.


But, it’s their promise of exceptional heat tolerance that has me thinking I’ll be needing to add a few more hanging baskets to my collection to try them out through the summer. A quick check of the web suggests they grow in Texas right through into mid summer so they should be able to cope with Kurmond even on a bad day!

For more on Techno Heat series of lobelias check out the Natural Selections website or have a look at the heat trial report from the Dallas Arboretum



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Jennifer Stackhouse

About Jennifer Stackhouse

Recently Jennifer Stackhouse made the big move from Kurmond in NSW to a Federation house in the little village of Barrington tucked beneath Mt Roland in northwest Tasmania. With high rainfall, rich, red deep soil and a mild climate she reckons she's won the gardening lottery. She's taken on an acre garden that's been lovingly planted and tended for the past 28 years by a pair of keen gardeners so she is discovering a garden full of horticultural treasures. Jennifer is the author of several gardening books including 'Garden', which won a Book Laurel for 2013, as well as ‘The Organic Guide to Edible Gardens’, ‘Planting Techniques’ and ‘My Gardening Year’, which she wrote with her mother Shirley. She was editor of ABC 'Gardening Australia' magazine and now edits the trade journal 'Greenworld' magazine and writes regularly for the Saturday magazine in 'The Mercury'. She is often heard on radio and at garden shows answering garden queries.

4 thoughts on “Petunia, you pet

  1. Petunias. I don’t know – there’s something about them that’s always looked a little (ahem) old lady to me. They sort of flop about in the heat like they’re just not coping. Though your hanging baskets do show them off much better, so maybe I should try that.

  2. Thanks Jennifer, for the tip about the techno heat lobelias. I am having trouble getting my hanging baskets to last through the heat without daily watering, despite usual wetting agent inclusion , mulching etc… geraniums are about all that have thrived.
    That blue is a blast, isn’t it? Then again I am partial to that shade.
    I always try to have red and white petunias blooming in pots by Christmas Day. Just makes it all look so festive and good backdrop for photos.

    • If you succumb to hanging baskets with flowers it is daily watering I am afraid! Glad you like the Techno Heat lobelias.

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