Even a common petunia has a story to share

Jerry Apps
Petunias are native to South America and there are umpteen different varieties of them.

Petunias. Everyone grows them. They are as common as dandelions. We take them for granted. And as the saying goes, “If you can’t grow petunias, you probably should be doing something else.”

I did a little checking and discovered that petunias are native to South America and there are umpteen different varieties of them. Petunias were introduced to Europe in the early 1800s—two species, one white-flowered and the other purple-flowered. They eventually made their way to the United States, where plant breeders had a hay day developing many colors of the soon to become one of the most popular flowers grown in the country.

It was in 1958 that I first began growing petunias. I was working as a county extension agent for Green Lake County. I lived in a little travel trailer, eight feet wide and 24 feet long. And I missed gardening. 

I shared this information with the owner of the trailer court. She said, “Why don’t you dig up a little patch of ground by your trailer door, and I’ll give you a flower to plant. It was my smallest garden ever—about one-foot square. 

The following day she brought me a little lavender petunia—one plant. That was my garden that summer. I watered it regularly and made sure no weeds grew near it. It grew and grew and soon had several beautiful lavender flowers, which greeted me each morning when I left for work and again when I returned in late afternoon.

One day in August, my landlord asked if she could pick one of my little petunia flowers. “Sure,” I said.  What I didn’t know is that she was active in the Green Lake Flower Club and entered my little petunia in the annual flower contest. My little lavender petunia won first place. I framed the winner, which I have to this day.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Even flowers have stories to tell.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to