FARGO — It's not flattering to admit this, but I'm a bit of a petuniaist.
It's sort of unfair to hold a grudge against one of the pluckiest and most vigorous annuals out there. What has the humble petunia done besides grow despite the hottest of conditions, the poorest of soil and the lousiest of gardeners? This little-flower-that-could has done nothing wrong, beyond being attractive, affordable, versatile and perhaps a little too popular. It's the botanical equivalent to the sparrow, the Taylor Swift of Top 40.
Granted, the petunia breeders have worked hard to give the petunia a more exotic edge. Back in the '90s, a Japanese beer company's horticulturists, employed to grow plants to infuse new flavors into their brews, were hoping to develop wine grapes when they uncovered a vigorous spreading petunia growing wild like a weed. After many seasons of domesticating and refining the plant, the first seed-raised wave petunias hit the market and they've been popular ever since.
They have also expanded the rainbow of available colors to include chartreuse, magenta-and-lime green, a true bright blue, white petunias with lime-green throats, purple with white starry speckles, velvety black and even silver.
But in my mind, a petunia by any other name is still a petunia. While I did plant wave petunias in my southside porch planters this year, it's mainly because these tough, little flowers will bloom where less-heat-tolerant plants will fear to tread.
Beyond that, I have a non-tunia garden. I've brazenly filled my containers and raised flower beds with any bloom that captured my fancy. I usually choose my posies based on two extremely "scientific" factors - their color and whether or not I think they're pretty. "Little" details — like light requirements, moisture levels, soil condition, space requirements and ease of growth — tend to fall by the wayside as I charge through greenhouses, impulsively picking out the most eye-catching blooms like a sugar-deprived child given free rein of a sweet shop.
In the end, I wind up with a garden that is, well, informal. A master gardener might shudder at my harum-scarum collection of flowers, sometimes planted too close together because my aspirations were bigger than my actual garden plot. Containers aren't strategically plotted to contain spillers, fillers and thrillers — so much as just plain fillers.
This year I fell in love with Nemesia, a beautiful little flower that looks like orchids which have been run through a miniaturization machine. Most of those wound up in containers, which are grouped around my fountain.
I bought a big lofos plant — a climbing vine that produces gorgeous, wine-red, trumpet-shaped flowers — but had to divide it into three smaller pots so it would fit into my new three-pot planter with trellis. So far, it looks pretty traumatized by the dissection; I suspect I inadvertently committed a triple-planticide.
I've filled the flower garden with sunpatiens — the new impatiens offshoot that actually loves sunlight — as well as an exuberant Fire dahlia in coral and gold, the bright-eyed blooms and glossy foliage of Madagascar periwinkle and the frilly, old-fashioned charm of stock flowers.
There are also teensy Dahlberg daisies, which look like they could have grown in the same wee Barbie Dream Garden that produced the petite Nemesia. In the background, I've planted a row of purple cosmos, whose buttery, daisy-like petals float so fetchingly in the breeze, and Truffula Pink Globe Amaranth, which grows tall but produces round, dense orbs of pink, spiky petals peppered with flecks of orange. Ageratum fill out the front row. I especially enjoy these petite plants, as it's so hard to find this shade of true-blue in the gardening world.
I grew a similarly eclectic selection last summer, but not all made it — probably because I had a puppy that insisted on digging up plants and possibly because of my indifferent approach toward fertilization (beyond what the puppy provided, I might add). With my brown thumbs, you'd think I'd gravitate toward easier and hardier flowers.
But that's me. Petunia skills with orchid tastes.