Looking at Geranium wallichianum
By John Beaulieu (pronounced Bowl-you)
As September rolls along and we come to the end of the summer, I still have a couple types of hardy geraniums that are still putting on a good show. They are the two Ws, the Geranium wallichianums and the G. wlassovianums. I’ll deal with Wlassov’s geranium in the next blog, but I want to look at Wallich’s geranium this time. One of the most popular of all geraniums is a wallichianum, or at least half a wallichianum (it is said to be crossed with G. himalayense), and that would be ‘Rozanne’. The following photo shows my ‘Rozanne’ spreading through my long finished (flowering – that is) phaeums.
With a name like Geranium wallichianum (wallik eye an um) it is no wonder that they are not one of the most often mentioned hardy geranium species. They could also commonly be called Wallich’s geraniums, as they wre introduced in 1820 and named after naturalist, Nathaniel Wallich, who was the curator of the botanical gardens in Calcutta (capital of British India). The natural habitat of Wallich’s geranium is the Himalayas from N.E. Afghanistan to Kashmir.
Although they have been in gardens for a long time, we tend to see only a few varieties here in Canada at the garden centres and nurseries. The oldest cultivar is ‘Buxton’s Blue’, having a sky blue flower with a white centre, black stamens and dark veins. Very similar varieties are ‘Jolly Bee’ and ‘Rozanne’. You can often find a few pink varieties of wallichianum available locally, such as ‘Pink Penny’ and ‘Sweet Heidi’. A few local specialty nurseries have had ‘Crystal Lake’, the new white (dark veined) variety.
A fellow geranium enthusiast in England, just told me about going to a talk many years ago where a slide was shown of Geranium wallichianums, a whole sheet of paper with probably 30 plus flowers on it. These ranged from pale pink to almost red, purples, blues, etc., a most amazing sight! The elderly couple giving the talk said they had collected these flowers over a period of about two hours in a meadow in northern India. He said there were better blues than ‘Buxton’s Blue’, and it makes you wonder why we do not see more wallichianums at the garden centres.
That reminds me of a photo taken by another geranium friend in England, who goes by the handle Psilo. This shot was of a selection of wallichianums from her own garden. I used this photo in my article last year about wallichianums in the newsletter of the Ontario Rock Garden and Hardy Plant Society.
This year, one of the hottest new perrenial introductions at local garden centres was Geranium wallichianum ‘Azure Rush’. It is a lovely plant and it grows really well, but it is still much like ‘Rozanne’, ‘Buxton’s Blue’, ‘Jolly Bee’, etc. Of course I still bought one!
These tend to be scrambling/spreading plants that can send out stems at least three feet in all directions. Because of their long flowering period which extends right to frosts, they are great growing among other geraniums that have flowered early, making it appear as if all the plants are still blooming. They will also climb and look good between shrubs and other taller plants.
The sturdy, deep taproot can make dividing the plant difficult, but you can often have success rooting the sprawling stems if you wish to create more plants. Of course there are always the seeds, and we know that most specialty club members love to grow plants from seeds! Geranium wallichianum seed is easy to germinate but we must remember that the seed from selected cultivars will not always result in plants of the same shade or colour as the original selection. In a previous blog I showed a photo of my best wallichianum seedling, and now I have seeds forming on that seedling!
I wanted to share with you two more wonderful photos of plants from the garden of my hardy geranium buddy in Bolton, England. These are two of her favourite seedlings from her seed collecting. They certainly rival many of the named varieties available.
One thing she has noticed is how wallichianums can change colour due to light levels and temperature. She also had a newly acquired ‘Azure Rush’ and hers had to spend two days in a box, making it very pink, but after seven days planted out, it changed to the light blue. The foliage also can change colour as the weather cools down. You can see below how the normal leaves of good old ‘Rozanne’ start to compete with the trees by the Canadian Thanksgiving.
Psilo loves the wallichianums and thinks that they are an underrated geranium that really deserves a more prominent place in our gardens and I would certainly have to second that motion! Since I have grown more varieties from seed (from friends and seed exchanges) I have learned how varied and beautiful they can be. Over the last few years they have been in scattered areas of the garden, but this year I have created a new bed and have gathered them all in one spot…. However, that’s a topic for a future blog.
- 17 Sep, 2013
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