PETUNIAS ARE a pretty good old flower that we take entirely for granted on the theory, I suppose, that the poor ye have always with you.
But the petunia is not a poor flower at all. I am fond of the semi-wild ones you see sometimes growing in cracks at the bottom of alley walls, self-sown and survivors of many generations. These semi-wild petunias are usually off-white or lavender and commonly are stronly scented at night.
In the garden much fancier sorts are found, including the great fully double sorts that look like a cross between a carnation and a rather opulent powder puff such as Sarah Bernhardt might have used. These doubles, which do not seem to me much improved in the past half-century, are spetacular flowers, and the pale ones deservedly command great attention when they are grown in big tubs and set around a large terrace.
I do not myself have much of a terrace, merely a space of paved brick with a little summer house on it, covered with vines, and enough paving to stand out the house plants -- a rubber tree, a few palms, cymbidiums and so on -- and it does not get enough sun for petunias anyway.
But along the brick wall that sweeps majestically to the alley and the trash cans I have several half-barrels and at the edge of these are a dozen or so petunias, planted right at the rim so they hang down and do not take up much surface, since the tubs are pretty stuffed already with permanent occupants.
The reds, nowadays are clear and sparkling, and since I grow some of them I may as well admit that in the distance, embowered in green, with the afternoon sun on them, they show up amazingly well. So do the salmon pinks with a good bit of orange in them, and so do the harsh pinks with a lot of blue in them.
But nothing is handsomer, to my mind, than the rich bright blues ('Mariner' is a good one and well parfumed, too) mixed with white. I grew a goodly batch of them last year and they suited me perfectly. The Lord only knows why this year I am growing reds and pinks, which I do not like nearly as well. Someday somebody should write a book explaining why gardeners, having found what suits them and having grown it to perfection, promptly change to something they do not like as well or grow as well, and then complain of the result.
Especially in small town gardens I think one must undertand that with such little space the gardener cannot resist trying a few different things each year, even if they are not as good as the things he had before.
Verbenas are another superb annual for hot sunny gardens.When I was a boy we had a circular bed, maybe 15 feet in diameter, that was bare all winter and stuffed with 'Pride of Haarlem' tulips in the spring, then planted solid with verbenas that bloomed their heads off from the end of May till November. Half the verbenas were 'Beauty of Oxford,' a rich bright red, and the other half all mixed up with white, pink, lavender and dark purple. You could spend -- or at least I spent -- a good bit of time marveling at all the colors jumbled up.
Here I have grown verbenas from seed in mixed varieties, and one year I set them in pots in sandy soil. Although watered every day or every other day, they did not flourish at all, and I conclude they prefer to be grown in large tubs or, needless to say if you have the space, in regular beds or borders. Sometimes they last through the winter, like snapdragons, and bloom a second year.
Not even full summer is free from anxiety for the gardener. There are always things not doing as well as expected. And gardeners have a very bad habit of taking for granted whatever behaves itself and does well. Grape vines, for example, are at their most luxuriant loveliness now -- never mind the grapes; think of them for a moment as the finest of all climbers for foliage -- but I see I spend little time in gratitude for their beauty.
Instead I am much concerned with the progress of my Gunnera, that prickly rhubarb sort of creature that in Chile, at least, develops leaves 10 feet in diameter.
Also I sweat daily over my plant of the wild yellow tree peony, Paeonia lutea ludlowii, which after repeated attempts and several deaths, seems as if it might finally consent to grow for me. They finally got a few plants of it at the National Arboretum -- you would have thought this marvelous wild plant would have been a fixture of our gardens for years now, but American nurserymen and American botanical gardens are wonderfully plodding and slow -- and theirs are either dead or on their last legs. Well, I know the feeling.
One nice thing about summer is that the clouds of birds that descend on us in October and stay till May have pretty much taken their leave. They are nice in the winter and only cost a billion a year to feed. But this summer I notice crows for the first time in the eight years we have been in our present house.
Crows have always been thick in the neighborhood, and indeed nest in some of the huge old trees of our neighbors, and since I am one of those people who tremendously admire the melody of their song they have never bothered me in the least with their trombone announcements. But until this year they very carefully avoided landing in the garden, despite its pool of water. We think maybe the high wood fence made them suspicious for years, or possibly the Irish setter also lived in the house before we did, once offended a crow by eating one or something of the sort.
After eight years of observation the crows evidently decided we would not beat them with a stick, and it really should not have taken them so long to conclude the hounds have always been asleep in the sun and have always been to lazy even to woof at a cat.
Anyway, the crows have descended with enthusiasm this year and have eaten a number of small goldfishes. They have also pulled out two or three floating glass thermometers (which I keep in the lily pools so that I can worry every day or two that the water is too hot, too cool, or too medium) but thus far have not carried them off. I now keep the thermometers in the house, because I know from years of experience that, once crows discover floating thermometers in a pool, it will not be long before they figure how to fly off with them to embellish their nests. Crows are great ones for making their dwellings grand.