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Novice Graduation and Life-long Learning about Hardy Geraniums ...


By John Beaulieu (Bowl-you)

I’m a new member of Grows On You and just getting the hang of this wonderful site. For my first blog, I’m using some thoughts that I had back in early spring. Right now, spring in Ontario is very summer-like and we have had enough rain to make the gardens lush and green. But we have had very fickle weather over the last few years. It may be 30 degrees C as I write this, but a week ago we had frost warnings! Winters can be long and our garden (known as Growin’house) is usually under three feet of snow for four months of the year. In some ways this works in our favour, as the snow cover is good insulation, allowing us to grow varieties here in zone 4 that might struggle in a wet and cool winter in the UK.

I don’t want to reinforce the stereotype image of Canada and snow, but Growinhouse does look like this for four months of the year. Lots of time for winter sowing of seed…

These somewhat belated thoughts do help introduce my addiction to hardy geraniums…

Springtime in this part of Canada is a time of waiting for the hardy geranium enthusiast. We wait for winter to release its icy grip and we wait to see those first sprouts of germinating seeds from those sown in-ground in late autumn or perhaps those winter sown in containers. In Canada our plants are rarely evergreen, so we wait to see signs of new growth on the established geraniums. All this waiting gives me time to ponder about when a person actually graduates from being a novice geranium grower.

Is it judged by how long you have been growing geraniums, or perhaps how many varieties you are growing or have grown? I suppose it is more likely based on how much you know about this addicting group of plants. I know some gardeners who have a few varieties and they have had them in their gardens for many years, but when asked about the varieties that they have, the response is often “ I have a blue one, a pink one and even a white one”. It is safe to conclude that they are still novices when it comes to hardy geraniums.

Maybe there should be some guidelines to indicate that you are no longer a novice, but I’m afraid they would sound more like the start of a stand-up comedian’s monologue, and why not, since we probably take our plants far too seriously anyway? You could compile a list of comments that were all preceded by the statement – ‘You know you’re no longer a novice if…’ One possibility would be if you can’t remember the name of the club member who asked you what your favourite geranium was, but you have no difficulty firing back that it is Geranium sessiliflorum subspecies novaezelandiae ‘Nigricans’!

Another answer could be… As some of your gardening friends are wondering whether to say day-lia or dall-ia, clem-atis or cle-mat-is, you don’t hesitate to rattle off names such as asphodeloides, wlassovianum or riversleaianum!

Or how about the case where you can’t understand why your wife goes out for a 5k run when you just went on for an hour explaining about the differences between hardy geraniums and pelargoniums and how Erodium pelargoniflorum got its name!

Roger Turner, in his book (which I recommend) Design in the Plant Collector’s Garden, talks about the symptoms of ‘collector’s mania’ such as over use of the term ‘Must Have’ and keeping a secret sheet of paper headed ‘Want List’. Turner goes on to say that you can chart the disease by studying the ‘patients’ book purchasing habits which start out as simple picture books and garden manuals but evolve through plant encyclopedias to a row of expensive monographs on the genera that interest the patient. Hmm, sounds all to familiar and I wonder if my book on geraniums in German counts since I can’t read German? Turner claims that once these books start sitting on a shelf by the bedside you can almost see the danger lights beginning to flash. Well, I do eventually put them all back in their proper bookcase. I guess it is safe to say that I have at least graduated from novice but perhaps suffer from ‘collector’s mania’.

I have even graduated to a sort of title in some hardy plant circles. When we went on a garden tour of the Ontario Rock Garden and Hardy Plant Society, visiting member’s gardens, I would run into members who had read my articles and seen my photo in the Journal, although I don’t get to attend many regular meetings. Like the tongue-twisting geranium names, they were unsure how to pronounce my name, Beaulieu (Bowl-you), I get everything from Bull-oh and Bell-oo to Bew-lee. Anyway, most just resorted to calling me ‘the geranium guy’!

So, what is next after you are no longer a novice? There are variations of terms such as geraniphile or geraniaholic, but I would prefer to be a geranium enthusiast or hobbyist not as some might suggest, a geranium fanatic. There is still a long road ahead before one becomes a geranium ‘expert’, if one really ever does become such. There is always so much to learn and I think it is the continual learning that makes this hobby so interesting.

I have learned that you WILL lose a plant every now and then and it is not always your fault, as it may simply be hard or impossible to grow certain plants in your specific climatic conditions and soil makeup. I also learned that it is alright to move plants to other locations in your garden until you find the best spot for a demanding plant. Fortunately most geraniums are not very demanding. As an example, I have had much better success with the cinereum group, dalmaticum, ‘Mavis Simpson’ and the renardii types since creating a well-drained rockery area.

These are a few of the hardy geraniums (and one erodium) that are enjoying the good drainage of the rockery: 1. ‘Laurence Flatman’, 2. ‘Purple Pillow’, 3. ‘Alice’, 4. ‘Mavis Simpson’, 5. ‘Cheryl’s Shadow’, 6. Erodium ‘William Bishop’, 7. ‘Orkney Cherry’.

I learned how much fun it is to collect and grow from seed, and I’m learning to make specific crosses. I have been growing hardy geraniums from seed for several years now and finally some interesting and slightly different (for me) plants have been showing up among my seedlings. This past summer I have had some nice seedlings of wallichianums, certainly different from the few found commercially on this side of the pond, but perhaps not all that different from what is available in the UK or Europe.

My best Geranium wallichianum seedling so far.

I’ve learned that I can snip off the top end of the ‘beaks’ of those plants that are going to have ripe seed at a time when I might be away. Instead of ejecting the seed, the stubby little awns just curl down from the cut and the seeds are still there waiting for my return home.

These two different varieties have had their beaks snipped. You can see that when the awns dried, they curled down, leaving the mericarps and seed still attached.

I’m TRYING to learn that I don’t need to collect and sow every seed produced, as I am limited to two small nursery beds. I leave the in-ground sown seedlings in the bed until they flower in the second year, then I move them so I can re-sow that bed with new seed in the late autumn. Of course seed is always needed for the local clubs’ seed exchanges and for trading with the few other geranium hobbyists that I have found in Ontario. Considering that my collection is still pretty basic compared to the selection in the UK, my sending seed to the UK clubs that I belong to would be a little like sending coals to Newcastle, but give me time.

Several times in his book, Roger Turner would advise that even the serious plant collector should limit the collecting to only the best garden worthy varieties or to numbers that there is space to accommodate properly. I’m afraid my gardens are a little crowded and I’ve certainly got my share of wild and weedy types such as thunbergii and pyrenaicums. On the back of the book jacket, Tony Lord (another well-known horticulturalist), in his review suggests that after reading Roger’s advice we should be able to say no to that offer of a hundredth cranesbill. Really… refuse a new hardy geranium? Apparently I still have an awful lot to learn!

Geranium renardii and the related hybrids also thrive better in the rockery area, seen here are 1. ‘Philippe Vapelle’ and 2. ‘Terre Franche’. These two are often said to be almost identical, but I find that ‘Terre Franche’ has slightly wider petals and a reddish tint to the flower that reminds me of G. himalayense ‘Gravetye’. Photos by John Beaulieu

More blog posts by bowl_you

Next post: Harvesting Hardy Geranium Seed



Goodness, you do like your Geraniums don't you?Very interesting blog and strange, because at least one of the geraniums pictured above look exactly the same as one I have but a completely different name.I suppose there are some that are very similar!
Welcome to GOY.......
Personally, I've learned to realise, I'll never be a 'real' expert at anything(can't concentrate for long enough these days) but, I console myself with just enjoying the garden these days!That's not to say I don't admire those such as yourself who can focus the mind so well on becoming an authority on any specific Genus of plants! I look forward to more blogs and pictures in he future!

4 Jun, 2013


Welcome yo GOY, your photos are great and as like Paul above I'm no expert on anything but I know what I like.....even if I don't always remember the name!! Your house looks great, lovely snowy scene.

4 Jun, 2013


John, I love that priceless tip of snipping off the end of the 'beak'. (Beautiful photos by the way).

4 Jun, 2013


Welcome to Goy John, it sounds pretty chilly there, Britain has had unusual weather patterns for a few years now, this year we thought spring would never arrive, last year summer never did!

I like hardy geraniums too, your photos are lovely

4 Jun, 2013


I have added your blog to 'favourites'. Thanks John and welcome to GoY.

4 Jun, 2013


Welcome to Goy, you really are a geranium addict aren't you!lol I do like them, but I'm not an expert at anything, and like trying different plants for a change now and then. I admire your dedication though and your photos are great!

4 Jun, 2013


welcome from me too.
I like your definitions, not sure which one I fall into. enthusiastic certainly and the keeper of a few named species/varieties of Geranium and Erodium and the owner of several unknown self sown jobs. I love the science behind the names too.
as for the books by the bedside: I have plant books some of the time [others sewing crafts/ real literature?] and my OH has cycling/machinery/Humber keel/ or what ever else is flavour of the month
your home looks amazing even with all the snow.
look forward to reading more.

4 Jun, 2013


Hi John, great first blog, looking forward to more blogs and pics.

But oh no ...I am now worried, my book count has reached 44 and there is always 2 to 3 gardening books at the side of my bed! I think I could be addicted..............

I've got Orkney Pink as the latest additon to my small selection of Geraniums, it was new last year and should flower for the first time this year. ( I am originally from the north of scotland, where you catch the boat to Orkney from, I am a sucker for the name meaning something to me.......)

I like your pic of your best seedling, its my favourite. Might try seed collecting this year , following your tips above!

Keep me in check if I moan about 4 inches of snow in December 2013! Your snow photo is amazing, your home looks very "at home" in its setting if that makes sense!

4 Jun, 2013


OK, I'll do that Sarah - Maybe I could send you some snow if we get too much! Actually, that insulating blanket of snow (which can remain into April) allows me to grow things here in USDA zone 4 that some in the UK might struggle with in cold, wet situations.

Paul - What is the name of your look-a-like geranium?

I thank you all for the kind comments. I have been busy checking out member photos and blogs... so many great photos! I don't get to go on-line that often, perhaps a couple times a week. I am not on-line at home and use the local Midhurst Library computers. I know I shall enjoy this site, it truly grows on you!

5 Jun, 2013


Welcome John! It's always a bonus when we get someone new who has a real passion for a particular genus, as it helps us all learn! I look forward to seeing more of your geraniums. I have a few myself and I find them invaluable. The phaeums are a favourite of mine, particularly 'Blauwvoet' which is in full bloom right now, and Margaret Wilson, as well as Samobor. I love them all! :)

5 Jun, 2013


Welcome from me too. I do hope you enjoy imparting what you have learned to those of us who are interested but not so very skilled. I struggle to pronounce or remember names but its not so important as growing the plant for my own and others pleasure. I have learned a lot since joining GOY because members can be very generous in sharing what they know. The snow looks great but I hate to think where it all goes as it melts.

12 Jun, 2013


I love my Geraniums and have become a big fan of Erodiums in the last couple of years. Is the seed collection the same for both John as I have found it difficult to divide the Erodiums and would like more?

14 Jun, 2013


Annella - I too keep reading that many Erodiums are hard to divide. I have never really tried with those in the garden, although I found that Erodium x variable 'William Bishop' (formerly known as 'Bishop's Form') is very easy to propagate from cuttings taken from the many sprawling stems that it creates. I'm not sure if 'William Bishop' is even hardy in the UK, it isn't here, and must come in for the winter.

Other than a few commonly available ones, I'm new to Erodiums too. Those that I have tried have been just as easy from seed as my geraniums. As you will read in my new blog, I now have a few more Erodiums to play with: E. acaule, 'Natasha', E. petreum, and E. carvifolium... don't quote me on spelling, I don't have my reference here at the library computer).

My E. manescavii germinated fine being sown direct in-ground in late fall (autumn) as well as winter sown in pots kept in cold garage until spring. I place the seed in the soil or potting mix point down, just as it would naturally work its way down in nature (I do not remove it from the casing (mericarp).

18 Jun, 2013


Welcome to Goy John, like many a good reader I've worked my way backwards through your blogs, enjoyed reading of your passion for your geraniums and also found the blogs very imformative and with clear and easy to undestand instructions, the way you have named them and set out your pics makes a novice like me want to try, I do grow most of my plants from seed and like to collect my own seed but have never tried with the geraniums......Also appreciate seeing the names as so many are acquired under the collective name of hardy geranium and there are so many that look the same until one inspects closely and spots the little differences, lol....

25 Jun, 2013

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