Old summer favourites are popular for colour
ONE of the most popular summer plants is in colour these days, having been planted out last month. This is the pelargonium, commonly called geranium, notably the bright red kinds. The confusion of names is a legacy of the botanists who gave these, and related plants, their botanical names.
These related plants were once all called geraniums. But after a time they were considered different enough to warrant separate names, so the sort with red flowers became pelargonium and the others retained the geranium name.
The pelargoniums, natives of South Africa, can tolerate only the lightest touch of frost, and then not without damage. They have fleshy stems and leaves evolved to resist moisture loss in the dry months. Some kinds have downy leaves or waxy leaves for this purpose too.
There are three groups of pelargoniums: regal pelargoniums, zonal pelargoniums and ivy-leaved pelargoniums. Though closely related, they are very different.
The regal pelargoniums are somewhat shrubby, with a bushy outline and woody stems with jagged-edge, veined leaves. These flower from early summer, producing a spectacular first flush of flowers but fewer flowers after that. The flowers are large, white, pink or red, often two-coloured with splashes of contrasting shades. It is mainly grown as a greenhouse or conservatory pot plant.
The zonal pelargoniums are the familiar red, pink or white-flowered sorts with more rounded leaves, often with a band of dark brown. These are the ones seen planted out in containers and in garden flower beds and in public parks. They flower in a continuous stream until frost stops them. These are used as house plants too.
The ivy-leaved pelargoniums are very distinctive with thick waxy leaves shaped like ivy. These have a trailing habit and are used in window-boxes to trail down as much as a metre, as is often seen in Spain and other warm countries. They can also be trained up trellis in a conservatory or outdoors on a warm wall in a mild area.
All kinds are very easy to grow and have similar needs, namely good light with some sunshine at least and good fertile soil or compost, but not too rich as these plants tend to become soft and leafy and then flower less.
However, if they are not watered and liquid-fed regularly, the plants drop leaves, become straggly and flower less. All kinds are easily raised from cuttings taken during the next few weeks.