Patagonia is a large place, covering southernmost Chile and Argentina. To me it conjures images of big skies, steppe lands and dry air. As it really is, Patagonia is much more, including Andes mountains and temperate rainforest similar to our own in Vancouver, BC. Petunias belong in the Solanaceae, which is well represented in South America. This diverse family includes useful, delicious (tomato, potato) and occasionally toxic plants.
Nothing at all like the overused, abused annual Petunia hybrids of North American hanging baskets, this evergreen shrub has evolved to handle bright light and incessant wind, developing its mound form and tiny leaves. Petunia patagonica looks so right in its natural, spartan surroundings, seen in this photo from the Jardin botanique alpin du Lautaret’s photostream on Flickr.
And just as easy as it is (and necessary) to constantly fertilize annual petunias, this one needs no coddling. Feeding it would be killing with kindess. It is encouraged here in the rainy northwest climate by growing it in a trough of gravelly soil, where excess water drains away readily. Flowering prolifically when well grown, our outdoor specimen now sports a dozen or so flowers, more curious than beautiful to behold. This display is quite an achievement in seven years of cultivation, though honestly it is much more a testament to the plant’s powers of persistence than this gardener’s skills!