UNIQUE GERANIUMS FOR THE LANDSCAPE
By Wayne L. Handlos PhD
Coming from the Midwest, as I do, bedding geraniums belong in the garden during the summer. If you grow them the rest of the year, they have to be in pots in a sunny window or in a greenhouse. Now I'm in California, I can grow anything, right? In the ground, right? Well, this opens a whole new world to me.
Some of the first plants that I planted in the bed along the driveway were geraniums that I knew only by their first names - 'Apricot', 'Clorinda', 'Rollison's Unique', 'Brilliant'. These were unlike the bedding or zonal geraniums that I knew from Minnesota. Their leaves were somewhat scented, "pungent" is the word I've come to know from a geranium expert, Faye Brawner. And lobed. Small leaves have three lobes, but the big leaves may have as many as nine lobes when growing vigorously.
The flowers of these geraniums are borne in cluster of two to eight blooms. The flowers are not large, maybe one to two inches in diameter. They are borne profusely, so what they lack in size they make up for in numbers. The colors range from bright pink, to kind of salmon to reddish purple in the varieties named above. Flowers are most abundant in spring and summer but may be found almost anytime during the year here on the Central Coast. Seeds are almost never produced so these plants need to be propagated vegetatively , from cuttings. A branch cut from the parent plant can be stuck in the ground, and if keep moist will root in due course.
The plants of these varieties/cultivars are somewhat sprawling, making nice rounded mounds. In full sun, where they grow best, they will reach about three feet in height. They may get taller if shaded and have something to lean against like another plant or a wall. Some people have trained them on trellises or even espaliered them (not my thing).
In my garden these thrive in poor sandy soil, with a bit of supplemental water during the dry months. We have occasional, light frosts here during the winter, but these varieties have not suffered any significant damage. In the fall and winter, some of the leaves may turn red (in response to lower temperature, I presume).
If the plants grow beyond their bounds, or in the spring, they can be cut back to a more manageable size. New growth will shortly begin again and the plants will look like nothing happened to them.
The "Unique" geraniums are an old group of hybrids of unknown and speculative parentage developed 100 to 150 years ago. A few newer cultivars were developed in the 1960s and are still available from specialist growers. (Cultivars include 'Bolero', 'Carefree', 'Hula', 'Mystery', 'Polka', and 'Voodoo'.)
Variegated leaved cultivars are also known. (These include 'Phyllis' and 'Golden Clorinda'.)