In praise of pelargoniums

A very overdue blog, as life and baby-rearing have rather taken over, and the weather has limited my actual time spent in the garden, bar the odd bit of dead-heading here and there.

However, two weekends ago I paid a visit to a new garden centre in the area, Alexandra Nurseries  in Penge. It combines a pleasing selection of vintage bits and bobs with cake, and very reasonably priced plants.

I was struck by a gorgeous collection of pelargoniums right by the entrance and couldn’t resist taking a picture:

Gorgeous pelargoniums at Alexandra NurseriesPelargoniums are plants I feel I oughtn’t to like and yet somehow do – having always called them ‘geraniums’, I only discovered recently that true geraniums are actually the wild purple ones (what I knew as crane’s-bill as a child, and therefore related to wretched Herb Robert which seeds itself ALL OVER my garden).

While the wild ones have a lovely rambling romantic feel to them – and that blushing shade of purple is one I’ve already admired on a previous blog – to me, pelargoniums are a strictly garden plant, happiest when tidily spaced on windowsills or in terracotta pots.

The range of colours, as per the display above, couldn’t fail to warm the hardest heart, and I have grown every shade from white to bright fuschia pink, but there is a particular shade of salmon pink which is my favourite, and it has a story attached to it.

The story goes that my maternal grandmother saw a salmon pink pelargonium growing at the Welsh open-air museum of national history, St Fagans near Cardiff, and took a fancy to it. A museum attendant was walking nearby, so she asked him politely (in Welsh) ‘Could you look the other way a moment, love?’ – took a cheeky cutting of the plant, and grew it for many years.

I never met my grandmother, as she died before I was born, but having heard the story from my mother, I decided that I would grow salmon pink pelargoniums in my garden one day – and one of the first things I planted in windowboxes outside my house were pink pelargoniums.

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The windowboxes came from my local Woolworth’s, now sadly RIP, and although the first pelargoniums didn’t survive the following cold winter, they were replaced by more of the same, or pansies if I fancied a change.

However, I had a nasty surprise one October when I came home to find the windowboxes gone – a Hallowe’en trick or treat joke, I imagined at first, but when they didn’t get returned I concluded they had been stolen.

I was doubly sad to have lost one of the final things I’d bought at poor old Woolies, and one of the first  bits of planting I’d done to improve the look of the house (and cheer me up) in the early, difficult days of the renovation process.

Having lost my windowboxes for good (boo!) I now have a pink pelargonium in a wall-hanging planter by the front door – too heavy to steal, I hope! – and two more in the back garden, including this undeniably garish fuschia pink one, which has done a good job of brightening the gloomy corner by the bike shed.

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So while I’ve lost pelargoniums to frost, snow and thieves, I have not let my losses get me down, and I imagine wherever I end up gardening next, there will be a pink pelargonium somewhere in the mix.

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