In gardening, there are times for instant satisfaction and times to be patient; there are instances when playing it safe is the wisest option, and others when it’s worth taking a risk. Striking the right balance is part of the gardener’s art. Since the birth of our seaside garden I have been growing Geranium maderense, a handsome herbaceous plant from Madeira. It is a plant that demands patience, tenacity and frost-free winters if you want to grow it outside. Whilst I may be found lacking when it comes to the first two qualities, in this case I have forced myself to persevere with these beautiful flowers because they are so stupendous when they do eventually bloom. Some gardeners grow them in pots so that they can be protected under glass over winter, but I have never seen one grown in a container look half as good as one planted in the ground, where they can achieve an incredible size.
As I write this post from my garden table I am surrounded by six luxuriant plants, each having survived at least two frost-free winters. This is the first hurdle for anyone trying to grow these beauties: they are only worth taking a gamble on in the mildest parts of the UK. If lightly frosted plants may recover, but the main stem, which is more of a trunk, has a tendency to rot when disease gets into any damaged tissue. We have experienced winters where every plant in the garden has been wiped out, which is heartbreaking – so much so that on occasion I have considered not replacing them. However, once one has persuaded a single plant to flower, which may be two, three or four years from germination, then one will have Geranium maderense for life. The seeds are plentiful and germinate freely, although seedlings prefer not to be disturbed once they have chosen their spot.
For the last six or so years I have been trying to get a white cultivar, Geranium maderense “Guernsey White” to flower. (If Him Indoors had his own way I would only grow white flowers). The first batch of seedlings all perished when, too big to be kept indoors over winter, I planted them out and they caught a chill. From a second batch I grew-on three plants, one of which I planted in the shelter of a tree. This is the specimen that has started to flower this week and which sends a shiver of excitement down my spine every time I gaze at it.
Unlike the Barbie-pink flowers of the species, G. maderense “Guernsey White” has brilliant white petals, crinkled like crepe paper, arranged around a small magenta eye. Each flower is about the size of a 50 pence piece and is unscented, although en masse I have known the pink version smell like a damp dishcloth. That aside, the flowers will now be produced in great profusion for months before the whole plant collapses and dies. That’s the reward one gets for one’s bravery and fortitude: a plant one rarely sees growing in any other garden going out in a blaze of glory, followed by a lovely big gap in which to replant with the same, or something different. What could be better or lovelier?
Wishing you a wonderful week in your gardens. TFG.