You can’t eat a pelargonium. Well, that’s not quite true – I’ve recently been taunted with photographs of pelargonium cake, something I’ve yet to sample. But you don't grow them as a fruit, or a vegetable – you grow them for their cheery flowers. Perhaps, too, because the pelargoniums I grew up with made you feel like a green fingered gardening god – almost impossible to kill by neglect, they can cope with dry conditions, being supremely forgiving should you neglect to water them for weeks on end. You accidentally knocked a bit off from over zealous deadheading? No problem! Simply stick the end into some compost and, a few weeks later – hey presto! – a new plant! For as long as I can remember, the unpretentious cheer of zonal pelargoniums has been a fixture of the summer garden – rounded heads of single scarlet flowers, on long, succulent stems, rising from a mound of fleshy, rounded leaves with the characteristic burgundy half-moon markings – all seemingly quite innocent. But then a fancier relative of my familiar, unglamorous companions caught my eye, and that, I’m afraid, was that. A Something seemed to start.
I bought my first fancy pelargonium from Marchants Hardy Pants in East Sussex. It looked nothing like the plants I was used to – long, trailing stems, mid green, parsley like foliage, slightly curled on itself, with soft pink single flowers, each with five petals – two large at the top, three smaller below, the base of each petal with a splash of a deeper pink. I loved this plant, and it kept me company next to my potting bench. Sadly, inexplicably, I failed to give it adequate protection one year and it succumbed to the worst of a cold winter in an unprotected greenhouse, though for now it lives on in the header image on my Twitter page. I will replace it as soon as I find another.
I found the loss of the Shannon rather disheartening and perhaps partly due to this, and also to the inevitably butterfly nature of my mind when it comes to the garden, the newer pelargoniums, whilst not being entirely neglected, were not lavished with quite the attention they deserved. I’ve learnt, for example, that you need to stop these plants (pinch out the growing tips to encourage side branching) if you want bushy specimens – both the regals and the species got a little rangy, although they seemed perfectly happy.
And then, in around May this year, I came across a particularly splendid, dark flowered regal, petals a uniform shade of deep, red-black wine. The owner couldn’t remember the name, but I chanced across Pelargonium 'Chocolate' while collecting an order of roses from Rumwood Nurseries in Maidstone, which seemed to be the same cultivar, or at least one very similar. I bought two mature, bushy plants in two litre pots, one for the front of the house, one for the back (the one in the front, which gets more sun, and probably a bit less watering, is flowering most exuberantly, though both are healthy).
|Pellies in paper|
I think it’s clearly too late to extricate myself from their clutches. Save yourselves if you can. Or better yet, just surrender to it, find a plant you can get ridiculously enthusiastic about, and let it take over. There are far worse habits to have.