Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It Just Happened!

Science, or para-science, tells us that geraniums bloom better if they are spoken to. But a kind word every now and then is really quite enough. Too much attention, like too much feeding, and weeding and hoeing, inhibits and embarrasses them.
~Victoria Glendinning

Years ago it just happened to be our anniversary weekend, and we just happened to stay at a cute bed and breakfast up north, which just happened to have a Sunset magazine in the room, in which I just happened to read an article highlighting hardy Geraniums. The article just happened to mention a hardy Geranium mail-order/nursery/grower and profiled some rare varieties, one of which was ‘Lily Lovell’. The next day, we just happened to stop at a grocery store for some picnic lunch goodies and they just happened to have just received a nursery shipment. And guess what? There just happened to be a one gallon container of ‘Lily Lovell’! Of course I made it mine and do you know I’ve NEVER seen the fair ‘Lily Lovell’ since…anywhere! Just goes to prove the old adage…when you see it, if you like it, buy it.

There can be some confusion when we talk about geraniums. The brightly colored, large flowered, annual geraniums that grace pots and planters in spring are Pelargoniums also known as zonal geraniums. The mainstay of Germany’s window boxes, they come as upright varieties or the trailing ivy geranium varieties. Since our winters in western Washington can be mild we can often get the zonal geraniums to winter over, but usually they need some protection. There are also the tender scented geranium varieties that are only winter hardy in more tropical climes, unless you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse.

Not so for the hardy Geranium (Cranesbill). A true geranium, when it is planted in the ground they are a hardy perennial, and they look nothing like the Pelargonium plant. According to Sunset’s Western Garden Book, most are hardy in all zones with just one or two specifically hardy to zone 6 and to zone 9. Read the tag and know your zone before you buy. They sport a huge variety of leaf shape, leaf color and flower color too. The variety differences are endless. Some have leaves of deep purple color, some green, some a silver sheen. Some shamelessly seed themselves all over the place while others are very well behaved, slowly spreading and cooperative as we small garden tenders prefer. They are not bothered by any pests in my experience, including slugs and snails. I don’t know about deer, but since they do have an odor it may be worth a try if you and your deer friends have a disagreement over who your garden was planted for.

Over the years I’ve had many hardy Geraniums, but my two favorites are ‘Lily Lovell’ and ‘Mavis Simpson’ because they are well behaved and beautiful.

In my garden, Geranium phaeum ‘Lily Lovell’ (pictured above and right) blooms in late April through May, is nearly evergreen with large green leaves and has lovely purple flowers of reflexed petals revealing a white eye. It prefers morning sun and sulks if it gets a bit dry or too hot from later sun. I do cut off the stems after they flower (seeding issues) and it sometimes gives me a minor re-bloom later. The leaves stand about 12” (.30 m) tall and the flowering stems about 36” (.90 m). It started as a one gallon size plant and is now a 4’ (1m) diameter patch. It’s been slow to reach this size (more than 10 years if memory serves me) and definitely would be easy to keep smaller by digging up pass-along plants.

Geranium riversleaianum ‘Mavis Simpson’ (pictured below being enjoyed by a honey bee) on the other hand disappears completely in the winter. The fresh fuzzy grey green leaves start peeking out again in March and once the blooms begin about a month or so later, it continues to bloom all summer. The leaves are small compared to ‘Lily Lovell’ and from its basal location the stems grow each year to fill in spaces like a low ground cover about two feet (.60m) in diameter. It could be considered to be of a trailing habit, so would do well in hanging containers or spilling out of a pot. Overall the plant stays under 6” (15cm) tall. It does not spread underground and I’ve never had a seeding problem. Perhaps it is a hybrid, so the seeds would be sterile. I only trim this one when it encroaches upon its neighbors or the pathways. The flowers are pinkish violet with dark veining and light centers.

In my experience, my least favorite is Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’. It has lovely burgundy marking in the leaves and dark cherry colored flowers but exuberantly seeds itself everywhere unless you are diligent at deadheading. I thought I was, but still found it coming up all over the place. I finally pulled it and it’s offspring out.

What a find ‘Lily Lovell’ was, all those years ago. Who knew she would be elusive ever since? Some days are just like that!

In bloom in my garden today: Bergenia ‘Winter Glow’, old fashioned Coral Bells (Heuchera), Tellima (Fringe Cups), Ajuga (Bugleweed), Solomon’s Seal, Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ (Yellow Fawn Lily),Wisteria, Tulipa ‘Gavota’, creeping phlox, Oxalis oregana ‘Wintergreen’, Anemone nemerosa ‘Robinsoniana’, Dodecatheon (Shooting Star), Alpine strawberry, Fritillaria, Primrose, Hellebore, Heather, Clematis, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Wood Hyacinth (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Top photo ‘Lily Lovell’ courtesy of Patrick Chissus
Other photos by author


Cindy said...

oh I love this. I love geraniums, however my hubs doesn not (too many years of plumbing around wild geraniums growning shamelessly everywhere and it got in his way constantly)

so when it came time to plant our flowers for our new home, I wanted a few...just a few.

mine have varigated leaves full of different greens and purples the flowers.
I really love them!

as for you if you see it policy...GOOD FOR YOU!
It certainly was meant to be!

we just planted an avocado tree and a plum tree! now that makes me so happy too!

happy Wednesday Joan xxoxoxox

Joan said...

Hi Cindy!
My computer connection has not been playing nice since tuesday, hence my tardy reply...apologies!

It's amazing all the varieties of hardy geranium there are!

And you lucky duck!! An avocado in your own yard!!! Oh to live in sunny warm climes! Enjoy them for me!

Shari B. (FitFeat) said...

Too fun that you read about it and then there it was at the store!

Sounds like the Lily Lovell people have the same marketing strategy as COSTCO! ;) Everytime I see something there that I want, if I don't buy it on the spot, it's gone by the next visit...

An anniversary at a B&B sounds so nice!

Joan said...

Hi Shari!
Nice to see you back here! Hope your time away was restful!

Yes, sometimes it pays to buy on impulse...glad I did this buyers remorse on this one.

Cindy said...

I am not sure how many years it will take to make me guacamole but I am smiling too!

my fruit tree list is growing :
peaches, plums (new), avo, apricot, loquat, meyer lemon, Eureka lemon, and blackberry, grape vines too.

MMM. it's going to be a tasty summer, no?

I also took a few pics of my geraniums for you! hopefully tonight i'll have them up!
Happy Monday!

Joan said...

Thanks Cindy! Looking forward to seeing your geraniums.

A tasty summer indeed. How nice to have the space and warmth for those treasures.

Joan said...

To my legitimate readers who have been slammed with the spam comments that have plagued this particular post I am sorry if your email inbox is getting clogged with these annoying comments. The box checked to bring comment updates to your email was added by blogger and I cannot block the spam comments from coming to your email. Sorry for the problems this is causing you. It is indeed annoying to me too. I will be adding additional spam controls to my comment section so hopefully it will stop for all of us. Thank you for your patience.