Crazy petunias—what do we think?

These are still recovering from shipping trauma

Sometimes, I look at my Facebook feed to get inspiration for a post, and this morning yielded a pretty good batch. Peat moss! Back in the news. Oh, here’s a lame tulip video I made back in 2009 (won’t be resharing that). And—this just in, breaking news: according to Garden Center, genetically engineered petunias are (without USDA authorization) being grown and distributed in the US. Under suspicion are some fancy orange, purple and red varieties, including ‘African Sunset,’ ‘Trilogy Red,’ and ‘Trilogy Deep Purple.’ These and other new varieties are touted not only for their vibrant colors, but also because they also spread even more bountifully than Wave types.

Which is all fine with me; I can’t get excited about GMOs when it comes to petunias, though I think that whoever is developing these needs to jump through the same regulatory hoops as other breeders. Everyday annuals like petunias and calibrachoa need the excitement of new colors and patterns. I ordered some goofy petunias myself from Select Seeds (above) called Nightsky. This is a departure from this company’s usual practice of offering older heritage plants, like the climbing petunia I get from them every year. Select Seeds is also the only place I can find petunias that still have a nice scent, such as the lovely ‘Rainmaster’ (dating to 1823, according to SS).

Heritage annuals are novelties, of sorts, and when it comes to annuals, I am looking for novelty: great scent, stripes, patterns, dots, unusual colors, unusual height. The new shiny bright thing works in pots, where it might not in other areas of the garden. I won’t consider most of the new marquee hybrids when it comes to perennials; they just don’t seem to have the stamina in many cases. And I dislike almost all new hybrid ever-blooming shrub roses. Too pedestrian.

However, the breeder who can develop a psychedelic antirrhinum has my attention.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Just to avoid any confusion, Night Sky, bred by the German company Selecta One, was created using cutting-edge but non-GMO breeding methods. It is NOT a GMO or a product of genetic engineering – just really creative breeding.

    Which also means that it can’t just have a cool color, but it must also perform for the gardener – otherwise, she won’t buy it again and all that work will be for nothing. So modern petunias have both great colors and great performance … and with the exception of the orange petunia issue, are all produced using modern, but non-GMO means.

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