I have never been a great collector of things or of plants – some people have the attention to detail and the tenacity and some do not, and I fall squarely into the latter category. But it struck me recently that I have made a collection of pelargoniums. To proper plant aficionados that may seem a very silly thing to make a collection of. Pelargoniums, also known as bedding geraniums, are ten a penny. You will find them in every garden centre, car boot sale and plant stall each summer, and they are not exactly hard to look after. Rare orchids they are not. But still, they give me a lot of pleasure and I have, over the years, collected a group of plants whose colours I particularly love together and kept them alive year after year. As someone who is quite bad at such things, I am going to call that a triumph.
I understand that there is still some snobbery around pelargoniums. Like many other plants that deserve a second go the problem is mainly that they have been used in extremely naff ways in the past. Council bedding schemes in particular were once enamoured of them, using them as a perky centre piece within a fluff of other flowers. In such situations they were prized for their brightness and contrasted with other bright flowers and altogether made up a pretty gaudy picture, often planted in lines or formal circles. All very strange, but it’s not the plant’s fault. I think the problem partly comes from planting them in the ground. They will never look right, but that’s ok. They are a plant that looks beautiful in a terracotta pot, and are far more suited to perching prettily on city doorsteps than to being sunk into borders among other plants. The colours that I have gathered are corals, dak and light pinks and deep reds. Some have plain green leaves and others variegated, and some are ivy leaved. I particularly love the ivy leaved types which help me to imagine that my veranda is a balcony in southern Spain.
Part of the reason I have managed to keep them going is that I take cuttings of my favourites each year, and this is the time. In some parts of the UK pelargoniums will squeak through the winter, particularly if kept near to the house, perhaps on a windowsill. I usually pack mine into my mini greenhouse at the end of October, but I do have some planted in wall pots which I leave out all year as their position is so sheltered. But this is in a city in the south west and others may have trouble leaving them out. It is safer to bring them in in some way, but they don’t particularly enjoy being in the house either. It is a good idea to take cuttings in August and overwinter those somewhere sheltered such as a greenhouse or an (indoor) kitchen windowsill. Then if you do lose your larger plants you will have some replacements. And if you don’t lose them you will have more and more of your favourite coloured pelargoniums each year.
Take cuttings now a few inches long, leaving just one or two leaves on and cutting the bottom just below a ‘node’ or a lump on the stem. Push several cuttings around the edge of a pot of seed and cutting compost and place somewhere sheltered where you are likely to check them regularly. They should root quickly, but leave them in their pots over winter, knocking them out and giving them their own (terracotta) pots next spring.