Sandy’s Garden ... Pretty Petunias

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

It is proving to be another good year for petunias, those pretty, tubular flowers which are to be seen everywhere in hanging baskets, pots and flower beds.

The flowers can be ruffled, fringed or double, in almost any colour imaginable, although purple and red are the most common. Some flowers will be one solid colour while others have contrasting veins or edges. Originally from South America, there are some 35 species in the genus … 35 members of the family in plain English … although the vast majority of those likely to be seen in central Scotland are either common petunias … Petunia hybrida … or Surfinia®.

Surfinia® is the brand name for a particular variety of trailing petunia developed by Suntory® Japan Ltd and introduced onto the European market by Moerheim New Plant BV. I must admit that I used to associate the name ‘Suntory®’ with a brand of Japanese whisky and have only recently learned that Suntory® own a wide variety of branded drinks, including such household names as Bowmore Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Lucozade and Ribena, so the company is nothing if not diverse. This diversity is further expanded by the Suntory® Collection Europe, which “offers flowering bedding and pot plants for every garden and balcony. From Petunia Surfinia®, Calibrachoa Million Bells®, Mandevilla Sundaville®, Pericallis Senetti®, Argyranthemum Grandaisy® to Bidens Beedance® and Poinsettia Princettia®, the collection includes only innovative top-notch products. The plants in the Suntory® Collection Europe are known for their superior garden performance and bring masses of flowers and vivid colours to their surroundings.” Have you guessed, gentle reader, that I am quoting from the company website?

This year, I opted out of buying the excellent, but more expensive, Surfinias® and chose really inexpensive common petunias, which, having been planted in containers and pots where they were able to enjoy as much sunshine as Scotland has had to offer this summer and having been watered whenever there was need of this, have rewarded me richly with as pretty a collection of colourful flowers as anyone could wish for. There is some dubiety regarding the origin of the name Petunia, most authorities giving its origin as coming from the French language, which imported the word petun … meaning “tobacco” … from the Tupi–Guarani language of South America. The obvious question now is, “What on earth have petunias got in common with tobacco?” And the answer is that both plants are members of the group of plants called Solanaceae, or nightshades, a family which includes not only petunia and tobacco plants but also cape gooseberries, tomatoes, deadly nightshades, potatoes and chili peppers.

And that name Solanaceae may have come, it is suggested, from the Latin verb solari. meaning “to soothe”, referring to the alleged soothing pharmacological properties of some of the psychoactive species of the family of plants. It is said that a tea made from fresh petunia petals is a popular remedy for restlessness and insomnia in Costa Rica: but I prefer to stand by the more widely-accepted view that petunias have no known medicinal or psychoactive properties and suspect that the Costa Ricans drink petunia tea because they like it rather than for any soothing properties. An extension of this alleged power to soothe is to be found in the supposed meaning of flowers, where the petunia is said to be a flower that speaks of just wanting to be with someone so that it is soothing, although this is contradicted by a directly opposite view that petunias stand for anger and resentment. I just like the look of them!