A potted history of Pelargoniums

Our gardening team are huge fans of Pelargoniums, are propagate a number of different varieties throughout the year. We sat down with Estate Gardener Chris Greer, to learn more about these staples of gardens all over the country.

Who are you and what is your role in the team?

My name is Chris Greer, and I am one of the two Estate Gardeners at Chiswick House & Gardens. Mostly, I work out in the Italian Garden, and I’m often helped out there by our wonderful Goosefoot volunteers. I’m also really interested in plant propagation, and when I’m able I like to spend some time looking after our Pelargoniums.

So what exactly is a Pelargonium?

Technically speaking, a Pelargonium is what people think of when they think of a bedding Geranium. Geraniums are actually less hardy than Pelargoniums, they like more temperate areas and are more herbaceous. They’re both great plants, and grow nicely in gardens – at some point in history there was a mix up and they were all sort of lumped in together as one thing!

What makes Pelargoniums so special?

The thing that makes Pelargoniums special really, is that they aren’t special. There are so many of them, and they’re everywhere. They’ve played a role in horticulture since around the 1600’s, and have been popular throughout that time because they are really good, reliable plants. They flower pretty much all summer, and because of the huge amount of variety, they’ve got a lot of uses! There’s shrub styles, upright, trailing, and of course lots of different colours.

What would you say is your favourite type?

I’m a big fan of the wild ones. There’s a lot of wild varieties that you don’t see that often, which is a real shame. The ones that you get in garden centres are lovely, of course, but the wild ones just have such a huge amount of diversity – so much so that a lot of them don’t actually look like Pelargoniums at all. Out of the ones we have here at Chiswick… I would say the Crispum or the Chocolate Peppermint – the smells are just incredible!

Image: One of Chris’ favourites, Crispum Major, growing in the Conservatory

For people visiting the Gardens, where could they expect to see some Pelargoniums?

We use them in a few planting schemes around the Gardens, specifically the tubs outside the House, and the Kitchen Garden. We know that historically, they were grown in the Conservatory so we continue that today. The camellias are out of bloom for the majority of the year and are just green – albeit a very nice, glossy green. The Pelargoniums provide a lovely, colourful balance to that green throughout the summer.

What are your top tops for anyone growing Pelargoniums at home?

Do not over water! A lot of Pelargoniums grow in very dry areas, like southern Africa. The don’t like sitting in puddles of water! The majority like to be in full sunlight – though there are exceptions, like Chocolate Peppermint.

Where can people get a hold of one of our Chiswick-grown Pelargoniums for themselves?

We are selling them on our Produce Cart at the moment, which is out Thursday and Saturdays, 11:00 – 13:00. We don’t have a lot left for this year, so we encourage you to come down soon!