Pelargoniums? Geraniums? Cranesbill?

Janice
Janice Wells
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More fun with plant names

It’s so nice to get feedback on columns. I either learn something new about gardening or plants, or I simply get the good feeling that comes from being part of the family of gardeners.

Master gardeners, expert gardeners, professional gardeners, amateur gardeners, wanna-be gardeners or gin and tonic gardeners (the latter two are somewhat interchangeable) — I feel like we’re all related in our appreciation of growing things, even if some of us (guess who?) are better in our dreams than we are in actual practice.

And speaking of being related and learning, I believe I am close to being able to give a short lecture on crocosmia and montbretia even though I don’t grow them. Yet.

Sheilagh Sloan wrote “I, too, have a montbretia in my garden. It is spectacular when in bloom, and I’ve had people ring my doorbell to ask about it. I wasn’t certain of what I was actually planting some years ago. It took two-three years for it to bloom to its present fullness. They are a wonderful addition to any garden, and so far for me, are very low maintenance. I have also heard them called a ‘Lucifer,’ presumably for their stunning colour. Thank you for featuring it in your column. You don’t see many of them.”

Then Bob Bennett wrote that he believes the correct name is for the picture in last week’s paper is crocosmia lucifer.

Lucifer rang a bell for me and back to the Internet I went.

This time I learned that common montbretia was the first hardy hybrid of crocosmia and is orange and invasive in some parts of the world and that lucifer is a red variety much better behaved in gardens.

On a BBC gardening discussion website I read that the name montbretia was coined in 1811, but was dropped in 1932. Someone wrote that the montbretia name must have clung on a bit after that or else no one told her parents, which echoed my feelings exactly, but for those of you who want what that Stephenville garden has, I agree with Bob; crocosmia lucifer (which was a recipient of an Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit) might be your best bet to try.

I also learned that botanists change plant names all the time. One poor fellow related that he used all the correct new plant names in his thesis. His supervisor retired and his new supervisor had been out of the country and didn’t know certain plant names had been changed and made him change them all back again and then the examiner marked him down for not using the correct new names.

Let’s throw in another one; geraniums.

The annual plant that is one of our favourite and most common plants for containers is actually a pelargonium and is a relative of the true geranium which is a perennial and commonly known as cranesbill. Some purists still call annual geraniums perlagoniums or zonal geraniums, but then there’s the irritated woman who wrote “posh names are for snobs … buy the plants you like!”  

I have a few of these perennial geraniums, which is what I call them. I don’t know why I don’t call them cranesbill. I must have been introduced to them as perennial geraniums way back when and it’s usually as simple as that — we call things what we hear other people call them.

I have one of the cultivar Johnson’s Blue, (apparently the word “variety” is incorrect in this case … groan) that is so gorgeous, I pay it the honour of always calling it Johnson’s Blue. I actually have two of these but one is much more striking than the other, probably because it gets more sun.

I can’t believe I don’t have a picture of it.  

Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. Her latest book, “Newfoundland and Labrador Book of Musts,” was published in October 2010 by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc. You can reach her at janicew@nf.sympatico.ca. Note to readers: please do not send thumbnail-size photographs, as they are too small to publish.

Organizations: BBC, Royal Horticultural Society, MacIntyre Purcell Publishing

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