The Joy of Geraniums!

Helen Van Pelt Wilson describes (as only a seasoned gardener could) the many kinds of geraniums in her book The Joy of Geraniums, an expansion of an earlier work published in 1945. In her long life (1901-2003) she was a noted lecturer, editor, and author of 12 gardening books and countless magazine articles.

'Jay's Golden Bird's Egg'

She describes the fanciful Bird's Egg types, spotted with tiny flecks of color and apparently rare as hen's teeth; the Rosebuds clustered petals of pink, rose, and red; the Carnations with cut edged petals; the Phlox group with dark-eyed centers; the freely sporting New Life collection with various permutations of red striped and pastel dark eyed forms; the Painted Ladies with blush pink flowers and white centers (Helen recounts they were once known as Bruant's Cyclops in 1890), and more- many more in fact, now elusive and perhaps existing only on a collector's windowsill, if at all.
Pelargonium graveolens
'Grey Lady Plymouth'

She describes the Scented Leaf varieties, including the refreshing Peppermint "The great downy grapelike leaf and horizontal to pendant manner of growth, also tolerance for light shade make it an excellent plant to tumble over the side of a window box or to float down from a window bracket."

We learn Rose geranium's species name graveolens means 'heavily scented' and by 1800 it was grown by the hectare in France and Turkey, the distilled oils practically replacing the costly rose petal oil known as Attar of Roses.

She writes of the circa 1880 Distinction, "Green with a black zone describes the aptly named and appealing small Distinction, with its neat dark circle close to the crenate edge." It also bore the name One in a Ring and was planted along with Wilhelm Langguth in the garden bed, a contrast in leaf color that I think I'll try this year.

'Distinction' (left) and 'Wilhelm Langguth' (right)

'Mr. Wren'
Mr. Wren circa 1952, is described as a charming novelty obtained from the California garden of a Mr. Wren, and that it may be indeed a much older variety. The 1893 Mrs. Parker was also called Chelsea Gem, its soft pink double flowers flowering in abundance. Gardener's Joy debuted in 1913, and 1945 saw the introduction of a lavender pink with a white center single geranium called 'Helen Van Pelt Wilson', an honor she demurely noted with the praise.."blooms year-round for me and is very pretty; I do like my namesake."

Geraniums are easy to grow and can grace your patio in summer and be your indoor companions in winter- if you know these essentials.


Geraniums need a sunny spot with lots of room to develop. Some afternoon shade in summer keeps them looking good. Acclimate your geraniums to the lower light levels of a winter spent indoors by moving them into a shadier spot before the move inside in fall. Indoors, be sure to turn the pots to allow them to grow rounded and balanced.

Fancy-leaved types with bands of color need morning sun, but afternoon shade, as the leaves may scorch in too bright an area.


Add perlite to a standard peat-based growing mix for good drainage. Do not put a small plant into a large pot- move up gradually to a maximum of a 6" pot. Leave ½" space at the top for water in small pots, up to 1" space in a large pot.
Geraniums bloom best when slightly pot bound, and older plants can be lifted and some of the soil gently loosened and removed, and repotted with fresh soil into the same pot.


Water when the soil is dry 1" down, watering thoroughly allowing the excess water to drain away. Geraniums can be grown slightly on the dry side, but never allow to wilt, as that will cause lower leaf drop and a leggy, unbranched plant.


Cool nighttime temperatures of 50-55F and day temps in the 70's are ideal for flower bud formation, but geraniums tolerate all but the hottest areas. Regals must have 2 months of 50F or lower to initiate flower buds for the following spring show, and can be left outdoors in fall in a protected spot, bringing in before frost. More about regal geraniums here: Growing Regal Geraniums


Fertilize ½ strength with high phosphorous fertilizer every 2 weeks to a month, cut back feeding in winter and the darker days of earliest spring, for too much fertilizer will result in lush floppy leaves and long spindly soft stem growth, too little will result in slow growth and small flowers.


Keep spent flower stems plucked off and prune early spring to stimulate fresh new growth and more flowers.


Avoid leaf spots and more by removing flowers right after bloom and watering the soil, not the foliage.

Some Geraniums from our collection:

'Mrs. Parker'

'Mrs. Pollock'

'Appleblossom Rosebud'

'Peppermint' growing with Cuphea 'David Verity' and tall fragrant heliotrope

'Skeleton Rose'

'Frank Headley'

'Dolly Varden'


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