What I notice most about these flowers, are how hardy they are. They have surprised me by growing almost wherever I have planted them. What surprised me even more, was that I thought they were Geraniums! and that most of these species are indigenous to South Africa. They are found mainly along the east and west coasts as well as in and around the Cape peninsula. Some grow skywards with huge flowers; others have fragrant foliage and there are even dwarf varieties. Some hybrid varieties also produce oils that are used in the perfume industry.
Pelargoniums are ideal for sunny borders, potted on patios, and in window boxes. It has been a rather hot and dry couple of months for our lovely ladies persevering next to Ramblers Guest Cottage. One of only a few plants that are gratefully of no interest to the Rambling Bandits..
Many of the South African Pelargonium species produce strongly scented foliage, ideal in herb gardens and planted as compadres to fruit and veggies. My cherry tomatoes certainly seem to enjoy their company. I have also started cultivating them as borders , encouraging low growing hedges around areas I plan to utilize as garden/veg space.
The most well-known garden varieties are divided into Regal and Zonal groups: Regal pelargoniums are large, bushy shrubs that grow upright. They have sharply toothed leaves and large flowers from spring to early summer. Many of the modern hybrids, with their multi-coloured flowers are part of this group. This group has large showy blooms in every colour with veining, flecking or blotching. They are all descendants of P. cucullatum, which grows on Table Mountain. Zonal pelargoniums are the most common variety. Typically these flowers have a horseshoe marking on the petals. The word ‘ zonal’ refers to the colour, marks or spots on the leaves. The colour range is almost endless, often with bi-colours, outlining, splashing or veining. The plants flower all year round, except during the coldest months.
Ivy-leaved pelargoniums for example, make excellent creeping groundcovers, and can be regarded as one of the hardiest varieties. They have a great resistance to blights such as rust, and will flower abundantly even in poor soil, drought, light frost and shady environments.
Pelargoniums are an excellent substitute for annuals that demand a substantial amount of water. Plants grown from seeds, do tend to be more vigorous than those cultivated from cuttings, but take longer to flower. This has not been a deterring factor for me because, even though the South African winter months are fast approaching, our plants have generally remained full of green foliage and blooms have only recently died off due to what I suspect are current weather conditions. Your cuttings should survive as long as they are given light shade and are watered regularly until they have rooted.
Included in the South African genera of the Geraniaceae family are Pelargonium, Geranium, Erodium, Monsonia and Sarcocaulon. There are approximately 270 species of Pelargonium with ± 219 species occurring in Southern Africa, and a large concentration of more than 135 species that occur in the southern portion of South Africa, between Nieuwoudtville in the West and Port Elizabeth in the East.
So If colour, fragrance and low maintenance are on your garden checklist, consider your requirements met. Something else that is interesting… What you may think and are probably referring to as “Geraniums” in your garden, are probably Pelargoniums..See if you can spot the difference. Happy Gardening.