Sunday, 11 June 2017

Two Madeiran Geraniums

Geranium maderense and Geranium palmatum.

Last year I decided to sow some geranium seeds and as is my habit acquired several species without really researching their cultivation although I did know that Geranium maderense was half-hardy. First I have to admit that neither of these plants is a well grown specimen, they both suffer from not being grown-on properly during their first year and have not attained the true stature of their species due to a combination of neglect and a degree of ignorance. There are far better specimens pictured on the internet should you wish to view them, but these, I hope, will suffice to illustrate the difference between the two similar and often mistaken species. 

Geranium maderense
 Hailing from Madeira, Geranium maderense is the Goliath amongst geraniums often attaining as much as 4' in both height and width and even larger. The Madeiran Cranes-bill or Giant Herb Robert is normally grown as a biennial but some authors describe it as flowering after three or four years either way it appears to be monocarpic although there are some references of it lasting as a short lived perennial, take your pick! My plant came from seed sown in early spring last year and unfortunately was the only one that the seed produced, probably because the seed was cold sown in the manner of its hardier relatives and would have benefited from a bit of heat. I left it in my poly tunnel over winter and due to the mild winter it survived. The pot it was in was too small which restricted its growth and probably contributed to the flower stems appearing early, I then realised what I had and brought it into the porch for safe keeping. Ideally the plant should be well fed and brought on quickly in its first growing year to establish a large crown supported by the leaf stems which grow downwards and form a support as other than this the whole thing is only supported by a woody tap-root. In my ignorance I cut off the dead leaf stems to "neaten it up" but this is a definite taboo which can result in the crown snapping off with the weight of the canopy.

Geranium palmatum
Hailing from Madeira but also known as the Canary Island Geranium, this species is slightly smaller than Geranium maderense but is often billed as a hardy perennial although I would discount this for my location without giving it winter protection and regard it as more suitable for cultivation in a cold house. This plant is the sole survivor from seven seedlings being the only one that wasn't pricked out early but left in the original pot as the "runt of the litter" all its siblings damped off which I think was related to the difficulty in transplanting due to the thread like tap root, if I was to grow either of these geraniums again I would consider sowing into cells one or two seeds at a time for ease of handling, even though the seed is very small it would be worth the extra effort. 

From the pictures above it can be seen that Geranium maderense has finer foliage than the fleshier leaves of Geranium palmatum.

Geranium maderense
 Although in my ignorance I butchered them you can see how the leaf stems are meant to form a support for the woody tap-root.
Geranium palmatum
In the case of Geranium palmatum, although there is still a central woody tap-root the leaf stems grow almost horizontally.

Geranium maderense

Geranium palmatum
Although they both have typical geranium flowers and are very similar in colour Geranium palmatum has clear spacing between the petals.

I have described how not to grow these plants and hopefully indicated how it should be done, if you have a suitable spot in an area with mild winters, a cold greenhouse or a conservatory both are are worth a go as they do have a long flowering period and properly grown specimens, particularly of Geranium maderense, are spectacular. 

Primula x kewensis
Whilst on the subject of half-hardy plants another plant, from one of my favourite genera, which is best grown in a cold house or alpine house is Primula x kewensis. Raised at Kew from a cross between Primula verticillata and Primula floribunda it is a member of Section Floribundae and flowers during the winter months.

Friday, 14 April 2017

The final spring?

This will probably be the last year for my garden, down-sizing is on the agenda in the near future so without any idea of where exactly I am going my thoughts have turned to taking some plants with me. The house is of a size and in an area which is attractive to young families but the garden is probably not so attractive being described by my neighbour, who has a large family, as "beautiful, but high maintenance". He has large areas of grass and a maintenance contract with the mow and blow boys. Although I am contemplating possibly returning one central bed to grass I don't think I can bring myself to do it.

In the meantime we are back to business as usual after a long break so here are are the usual spring flowering suspect, plus one or two that are less familiar. Firstly the mainstay of early colour the Hellebores: 

Helleborus argutifolius
Everyone knows the Corsican Hellebore, previously known as Helleborus corsicus but still the acid green flowers are a staple of winter and early spring. 

Helleborus foetidus
Another example of winter and spring colour the Stinking Hellebore is a plant which is found growing wild in this country and I remember a story I heard  years ago that there was some controversy, possibly when shown at Chelsea or even when it was put forward for an AGM, over whether or not it could be classified as a garden plant or discarded as a weed! Although often referred to as growing on limestone does just fine in our acid soil.

Helleborus cultivar

Helleborus cultivar

Helleborus cultivar
The few examples above of Helleborus x hybridus just illustrate how useful this genus is.

Another source of early interest are the pulmonarias or lungworts:

Pulmonaria saccharata 'Pink Dawn'
A robust grower, I am not entirely sure that this is actually Pulmonaria saccharata or a form of Pulmonaria officianalis but as the flowers remain pink I am opting for the former.

Pulmonaria 'Ice Ballet'

Pulmonaria longifolia 'Majesté'

Pulmonaria 'Blue Ensign'
The three cultivars illustrated above are young plants which are not performing as they should probably because the situation they are in is too dry but serve to illustrate some of the variations in this genus.

Bergenia cordifolia
If you can keep on top of the unsightly leaves, often a symptom of being in a situation which is too dry, this is a rewarding plant which can be used on north facing sites.

Below are a few more pictures from the spring garden.

Camellia japonica 'Adolphe Audusson'

Fritillaria meleagris
Anemone nemorosa

Pulsatilla halleri
A much choicer and more delicate species than Pulsatilla vulgaris, Pulsatilla halleri is generally found on calcareous soils in some European alpine regions. This particular plant was grown from seed.

Rheum palmatum tangutica
The bright red undersides of the emerging leaves of this "rhubarb" can be seen from a distance even on the dullest of days and really come into their own when back-lit by the sun.

Skimmia japonica rubra
Now roughly a metre in height and width this skimmia has really come into its own this year about three years after it was planted. The winter buds were a really deep red and the scent knocks you over. When seen in the nursery in their pots these plants look superb when in flower and everyone rushes to buy however I have always found that they take at least a couple of years before they return to anything like their original display.

Trillium rivale
This little gem illustrates one of the benefits of obtaining society seed when you have little or no idea of what you are getting. Probably listed as a second choice these delightful little trilliums are flowering at the beginning of their third season from sowing, much quicker than some of their fellow species which can take five to seven years. 

Primula farinosa (Section Farinosae)
An easy to grow early spring flowering primula, the Farinosae has many species which, although not too different from one another, offer plants which are easy to grow from seed which flower about twelve months from sowing.

Meconopsis walachii
A rosette of Meconopsis walachii which has come through a very wet few months without damage and is now going to flower before dying.

Meconopsis walachii RIP.
This one didn't make it along with several others within a foot from the one that did giving an exceptional 75% failure rate this winter.

Returning to my favourite subject the RHS have had incidents of herbicide contamination from peat-free composts this year, would you believe it? They are also able to suggest that to avoid this we use their recommended product which incidentally costs roughly three times the price of a standard compost, peat-free or otherwise. 

After my long absence I hope to be contributing more regularly again as the future unfolds.