Sunday, July 22, 2007


What’s blooming in the area: Roses, rose of Sharon, Russian sage, buddleia, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, sweet peas, datura, daylily, purple phlox, mullein, bindweed, white sweet clover, goatshead, velvetweed, toothed spurge, Queen Anne’s lace, tumble mustard, heliopsis, chrysanthemum, Tahokia daisy, farm and native sunflower, golden hairy aster, goldenrod, paper flower, goatsbeard, hawkweed, horseweed, wild lettuce, corn, beans; red showing on apples. Áñil del muerto cut down at house with sheep; English plantain cut down across drive.

What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Miniature roses, coral beardtongue, hartwegii, squash, perky Sue, fern-leaf yarrow, chocolate flower, blanket flower, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan.

Looking east: Small and large-leaf soapworts, snow-in-summer, bouncing Bess, sweet alyssum, pink salvia, veronica, winecup, hollyhock, sidalcea, California and Shirley poppies, pink bachelor button; one pink is back.

Looking south: Tamarix, bundle flower, morning glory, tomatilla, cosmos, zinnia.

Looking west: Flax, catmint, white spurge, caryopteris, purple ice plant, ladybells, sea lavender, Monch aster, purple coneflower.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragons, petunia, Dahlberg daisy, marigold, tomatoes.

Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium.

Animal sightings: Hummingbirds, grasshoppers, crickets, ants, bees, dragonfly; hummingbird moths on large-leaf soapwort; whatever quail and yellow-bellied birds eat near my fence must be available now.

Weather: Hot days, cool mornings, rain late in week.

Weekly update: Petunias exist for one simple reason. They bloom. Any where, any time, all summer, they bloom.

They were bred to bloom. The first hybrid appeared in England in 1834, the year after sheet glass was introduced. They were grown in the new hothouses, then transferred to massed beds whose primary appeal was color.

They may have been smelly and sticky. They may have gotten scraggly as terminal flowers continued on longer and longer stems. No one cared, if there were enough of them, and they kept producing bright funnels of five-petaled flowers.

The first petunias I bought in Michigan in 1986 were Cascades that boasted large red flowers all summer. Alas, Pan American was replacing them with Supercascades that not only did not bloom, but died when they were transplanted.

Stokes told its growers it was offering Supercascades because they flowered three days earlier. When energy costs increased in the 1970's, three days meant three fewer days of warm water, heated air, artificial light, and fans.

The first petunias I had that succeeded in New Mexico were California Giants, sold by Burpee in 1998 as an experiment with heritage bedding plants. Theodosia Burr Shepard had developed them around 1900 in Ventura, California. They got leggy by the end of the summer, but they lived to bloom. Burpee didn’t repeat the offer.

I bought fewer plants, and each year what I did buy died. Last year, I found a better place to grow the ornamental nightshades, a more sheltered location with a little less sun. They survived between iris and hollyhocks near a retaining wall, but weren’t particularly prolific.

This year I discovered Easy Wave Cherry in a Santa Fe store. They aren’t the real Wave that sends out legions of emissaries, but a modification which is "earlier to flower under short daylight," produces "more flowers in the paks during spring sales" and has a more domesticated habit.

In fact, they may have been remaindered seed or a rival’s, since Kirin Agribio discontinued cherry in 2003, and resellers stopped offering it last year. My grower may have been using up left over seed or left over labels.

I’ll never know if they are what Daigaku Takeshita intended when he crossed petunia x hybrida with wild species. They don’t ramble like The Wave. Their rangy bare stems have been climbing instead, bearing small flowers since the middle of June.

It’s something to remember, three glorious petunias in twenty some years, each blooming oblivious to its obsolescence. But, oh to have had more from Shepard and Takeshita and others who know petunias are meant to bloom - not just in packs in spring - but all summer, in the garden.

Hobhouse, Penelope. Gardening Through the Ages, 1992.

Stokes Seeds Inc. Growers Guide, 1989, 2006 and 2007.

Photograph: Petunias sold as Easy Wave Cherry, near retaining wall with hollyhocks and iris, 15 July 2007.

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