After the untimely death of a colleague many years ago, his widow wrote a note to the staff: “Please don’t send flowers. Harry thought all flowers were petunias.” While it’s hard for me to imagine such willful ignorance of blooming plants, I have to admit that if he’d walked down the main street of Hoboken and admired the window boxes of the shops and restaurants, more often than not, he would have been right. Most of them seem to contain petunias, in all shades of pink, purple, even candy striped.
Does this imitation of the neighbors’ window boxes represent a lack of imagination? Or is there something uniquely wonderful about petunias?After I buy some petunias of my own, I quickly figure it out. Not only do they come in a fabulous array of colors. Nothing seems to stymie these plants. We’ve been through a blistering heat wave this summer. We’ve had downpours, thunderstorms, and hail, after which I’ve come home from work to find every single blossom drooping, sure that they were goners—only to find them open and fresh the next day. And if you regularly cut off the wilted flowers so that the seeds don’t mature, they seem to produce an endless supply of blossoms. Even now, as summer draws to a close, the flowers seem just as abundant as they did when I first brought the plants home.
If I have one aesthetic quibble, it’s that, because the new flowers form at the ends of lengthening stems, they are not as dense and tightly packed as they were initially. There are just as many flowers, but spaced farther apart. As my neighbor Jane says, they’ve grown “leggy.” (When applied to petunias—as opposed to blondes—this is not a compliment.) If I had cut them back more aggressively, rather than simply deadheading the withered blossoms, would they have filled in more tightly? It’s too late for me to find out this year.On the other hand, the insects that were politely nibbling my petunias have stopped. But even at the height of the infestation, they were remarkably well mannered, devouring one or two blossoms at a time—to near entirety!—and leaving the rest untouched, rather than taking a bite out of each one. Can anyone tell me what insects these would be? Check out their handiwork.