Geraniums are geraniums, right? They come in lipstick hues and bloom like fools all summer. Think again, dear reader, you partly right. But, the name is the thing! What you know as a geranium is really classed as a pelargonium. But you have the color sense down pat. As you read this, I bet you flash on the range of white through pink to red and orange that these flowers come in: apple blossom pink, siren coral, electric watermelon, ruby red, salmon pink, purple-magenta, and more. And, I raise the ante: these darlings in your mind’s eye are potted in a simple serviceable terra cotta pot or set in threes in a white window box.
Classification Conundrum: your confusion is reasonable. Both Geranium and Pelargonium are genera in the plant family Geraniaceae. That Swedish father of botany, Linnaeus, originally included all these plant species in one genus, Geranium. Later, the French botanist L’Héritier separated them into the two genus categories that some British gardeners call “Pellies” and “Gerries.” But most gardeners then and now, apparently, did not get this name-change memo. Geraniums — especially the classic bright balled blooms we know and love — seem to do quite fine, however they are called. We will, here, generally call these familiar plants ‘geraniums.’ But, pardon me when the botanical correct ‘pelargonium’ works better.
Most of the geraniums in the plant trade after WWII were classed as Zonal Pelargoniums (Pelargonium x hortorum). Geranium-Pelargoniums are extremely popular evergreen perennials indigenous to Southern Africa but are typically grown as annuals in most Northern hemisphere gardens. Why so popular? In addition to the heavy bloom habit framed by attractive lily-padded leaves, geraniums are drought and heat tolerant. Happy in pots, window boxes, and in garden beds, geraniums yield bright color from May to September or the first frost, which ever comes first. Because these plants are so easy to propagate, nurseries were able to offer these plants cheaply and in great numbers when our thoughts first turned away from victory gardens to pleasure gardening.
Geraniums: Easy-Peasy Mid Century Modest Gesture
If you were to do one plant gesture to the 40s and 50s, a potted geranium would be the very ticket. Play “Spot-the-Geranium” on Pam’s many vintage kitchen images in her galleries.
Unlike the named roses discussed elsewhere on this blog, specific geranium varieties or cultivars from this era are not nearly as well documented. This means your quick quest is easy: simply pick up a plant in your favorite color and voila! You channel your grandmother’s kitchen tableau, with any plant.
What I am overwintering now, for me: salmon. What I helped my neighbor overwinter: violet. YOU?