I think I’m past the plant snobbery phase. You kind of have to let it go when you observe yourself starting to really enjoy plants again that you once dismissed, and so accept what you’ve suspected for some time – that your opinions are highly unstable, and you may as well just adopt a default setting of more of less enjoying everything.
Of course there’s plants that stand high above all others, but in my current phase, I’d happily try and integrate virtually any plant into a planting scheme – even (I shudder as I say it) golden diosma and that rotten dwarf nandina (by which I refer to ‘Nana’, not ‘Moon Bay’). I’ve written about my chequered past re: these two here if you’re interested. I’m of the opinion that any plant can be made to sing (or at least support a neighbor in full song) if its put in the right company.
Or, perhaps in the right context. And that brings me to petunias. There was a time when I wouldn’t have considered growing them, but then I got over that and started using them regularly in mixed pots over summer. Clearly they’re going to look ridiculous in the same view as far more sophisticated plantings of perennials and grasses (I could tie myself up in knots here, as much of the more sophisticated planting I refer to is made up of simpler, closer-to-species plants, which you could then argue were at least from a breeding point of view less sophisticated, or less improved, than the petunias) but planted with other stuff in pots in key places, they work well. They’re also incredibly generous and outrageously tough, which are at the same time the reasons why we should be grateful for them, and the reasons they’re in danger of being dismissed.
This year I bought several punnets of white petunias, and also a couple of a double purple petunia. Frankly, the latter sounded from the description, and looked (in the pic) revolting, but in my default phase of enjoying everything I shoved ‘em in. For me, one of the saving graces of the otherwise common suburban petunia is that incurved funnel shape, giving the flowers both depth and an opportunity to be side-lit as if lit from within. Clearly the double, which looked like a loose pom-pom, couldn’t provide this, but I pressed on, nevertheless.
Both have the benefit of company. The white have been invaded by a nearby Helichrysum petiolare which is one of the very best ‘weedlers’ in the plant kingdom, wriggling its way amongst it neighbours and invariably adding value. The purple are planted with the silver Senecio cineraria, with which they’re out of all balance numbers-wise, but at least from certain angles (and if you squint a bit), the senecio helps leaven the otherwise solid block of purple.
As it turns out, the double purples are not as revolting as they might have been. And what I’ve come to appreciate is the phenomenal power of their scent. The blues/purples always have more scent than the white, which is partly why I grow them, but these doubles seen to be double in scent as well. The perfume is warm, spicy and viscous, and isn’t just restricted to the evenings, though its most noticeable then.
Does this mark the end of all discernment? It’s like when you’ve been to the US or France for a few weeks, drinking their appalling coffee, and then hit near-ecstasy with an Australian airport flat white. You can’t tell if its the best coffee you’ve ever tasted or if you’ve just lost your reference palette while away.
But purple pom-pom petunias? I can’t help but think that my horticultural reference palette’s been hacked.