Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day: Pelargoniums

A basket of ivy leaved Pelargoniums, which overwintered in our garage.  It is finally ready to begin blooming again.

A basket of ivy leaved Pelargoniums, which overwintered in our garage. It is finally ready to begin blooming again.


Christina, who gardens in the Hesperides, sponsors a day on the 22nd of each month to focus on the foliage in our gardens.

I’ve wanted to join her theme for many months now, and have finally been home with time to pull a post together, and interesting leaves to photograph, today.  Christina posts to Cathy’s In A Vase On Monday theme, and I always admire her lovely flowers.


Zonal Pelargonium

Zonal Pelargonium are so named because of the “zones” of color in their leaves.


What a treat to enjoy the wide angles of her Mediterranean garden filled with herbs in her post today!  What a fabulous garden she keeps!

I love plants with interesting leaves.  And I love interesting leaves which happen to also be distasteful to the deer who continue to sneak into our garden.


May 25, 2015 foliage 053~

Perhaps that is why I’ve become so enamored of Pelargoniums in the past few years.  I’ve never been particularly fond of the flowers these plants produce.  There are so many other more beautiful flowers.  But I grow as many varieties as I can for their lovely foliage.

My favorites are the scented Pelargoniums, which have been particularly difficult to source this season.  The ones I hoped would survive our winter did not.  Marginally hardy here, some winters they make it, and others are cold enough that they die before the weather sufficiently warms in spring.


This rose scented Pelargonium grew in our garden last summer.  I still haven't been able to source this variety this year, and the roots apparently didn't make it through this past winter.

This rose scented Pelargonium grew in our garden last summer. I still haven’t been able to source this variety this year, and the roots apparently didn’t make it through this past winter.


I kept many pots of various Pelargoniums going through the winter in our garage, and these are leafing out now.

Most of our scented ones had grown into shrubs by autumn, and I didn’t make cuttings, believing I could purchase fresh plants this year.  Although I’ve found a few at The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia; our local nurseries have little to offer beyond the ubiquitous P. “Citronella.”

I love the soft, fragrant leaves of these useful plants, mostly native to South Africa.  Like other herbs, they are edible and may be used in cooking.  Their fragrance helps repel flying insects, and they remain utterly distasteful to deer.  Drought tolerant, they thrive in full sun.


This little scented plant came home with me on Saturday from my excursion to The Great Big Greenhouse.

This little scented plant came home with me on Saturday from my excursion to The Great Big Greenhouse.  The leaves are so beautifully textured, and they are edible.


(Christina, had you considered a large and lovely pot filled with Pelargoniums to fill the empty spot where your Buxus once grew?  It will turn loss into beauty while you plan a more permanent fix.)

As much as I enjoy the scented varieties, I’ve gained a new respect for other Pelargoniums as well.  I’m growing a selection of Ivy leaved cultivars  in pots and baskets this year in many areas of the garden.  I love how these drape in a hanging basket.


An ivy leaved Pelargonium I have growing in a sunny area near our kitchen door.

An ivy leaved Pelargonium growing in a sunny area near our kitchen door.


They have deep glossy foliage, in the shape of ivy leaves, and produce an abundance of sturdy bright flowers through the entire season.  Hummingbirds love the flowers, which grow well in full sun and can stand getting a little dry without drooping.

I’ve also been purchasing Zonal Pelargoniums with variegated leaves.  These beautiful variegated Zonals have been widely available in our area, and I have been collecting them to use in planters at the street and on our front patio.


May 26, 2015 vase 001~

I’m not so concerned with the color of their flowers, as I am with the beautiful patterns on their leaves.  These blend well with other plants grown primarily for their foliage to make a living tapestry of texture and color in summer displays.  They can take full sun or partial shade, withstand drought, and aren’t bothered by pests or disease.


August 2, 2014 014


Pelargoniums, though tender perennials, generally get treated as annuals by modern gardeners.  Most remain so common and inexpensive that we give them little thought.  In fact, many American gardeners see them as cliched; often overlooking them for newer hybrids of other flowering annuals.

I experimented with keeping as many of our plants as I could in the garage over winter with mixed results.  A little more than half survived, kept in slightly moist soil.  Had our winter been shorter, they might all have made it.  Many of these plants kept green leaves all winter, even if they did grow very scraggly by February.


These Pelargoniums overwintered in their container in our garage, and are just leafing out again for the new season.  These tender perennials can grow quite large when kept from year to year.

These Pelargoniums overwintered in their container in our garage, and are just leafing out again for the new season. These tender perennials can grow quite large when kept from year to year.


It seems that European gardeners are much more likely to grow Pelargoniums than are American gardeners. Many Europeans fill window boxes and hanging planters with these sturdy plants season after season.  Many have perfected techniques for keeping their plants alive from one summer to the next.

I’ve been reading The Passion For Pelargoniums: How They Found Their Place In the Garden by Anne Wilkinson.  9780752496061_p0_v1_s260x420

Anne traces the history of this genus from the native plants found growing in South Africa and South America by European explorers in the Seventeenth Century, up to the present day.  She talks about the important European growers who developed countless hybrid cultivars of the various species of Pelargoniums, and what traits were valued at different points in their history.  In fact, in the mid-Nineteenth Century, at the time of the American Civil War, British nurserymen were in stiff competition with one another to develop the many Zonals with variegated leaves that we enjoy so much today.


October 28, 2014 fall color 006


This extremely detailed and meticulously researched book will be of interest both to gardeners who enjoy growing Pelargoniums, and to anyone interested in the history of commercial horticulture.  The story is filled with fascinating characters, drama, intrigue, and previously untold history.

If you are wondering why I’m not simply calling these plants “Geraniums,” as most of us normally do, it is to avoid confusion with the true, perennial Geraniums.  We are growing quite a few varieties of these in the garden this year, too.  They are native to many areas of Europe, and have nothing to do with the tender Pelargoniums native to the Southern Hemisphere.


Perennial hardy Geranium

Perennial hardy Geraniums have flowers with five, equally spaced petals.


Many of the plants we grow  are chosen strictly for their leaves.  Beyond the Pelargoniums, I’ve also been watching for the Bonefish series of Coleus, and I’ve been nurturing a wide variety of Begonias.  Both offer inconspicuous flowers but outrageous foliage!


An Angelwing Begonia finally making its new leaves for summer.

An Angelwing Begonia finally making its new leaves for summer.


For those waiting for the wide shot of our May garden, I’ll include one to show the progress of the Canna lilies and Colocasia which finally have begun to grow.  These overwintered in the ground.  It appears that we lost some of the dark leaved  Colocasia, a huge disappointment; but at least two of our cultivars survived winter and are bulking up now that the heat has finally arrived in our garden.


May 25, 2015 foliage 042~

Do you select plants primarily for their flowers or for their foliage?  Everyone has their own preference for the balance between leaves and foliage, bright color and restful green.

As much as we love that rush of May Iris and roses, our focus remains on the foliage which lasts through the season.


May 25, 2015 foliage 023


I plan to focus on a different genus each month, sharing some of our favorite foliage plants growing  in our garden this summer, as I join Christina in her monthly GBFD post.

Do you have favorite foliage plants?  Do you include tropical foliage plants in your garden?

If you’ve not grown Pelargoniums for a while, I hope you will give them another look on your next trip to the garden center.

We stopped by our little McDonald’s Garden Center satellite store today, and were delighted to find a wonderful selection at 40% off.  These tough little plants prove a true bargain, because they keep performing well through the entire season with minimal attention.  Give them bright sunlight, steady moisture, and a monthly feeding to keep them growing (and blooming) until frost.


May 25, 2015 foliage 004



Woodland Gnome 2015


About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

12 responses to “Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day: Pelargoniums

  1. Lovely. The leaves are as amazing as the flowers! Thank you for sharing. Koko 🙂

  2. Beautiful post on Pelargoniums! A great genus with so much to offer. I’m surprised the humidity doesn’t bother yours. Perhaps your air circulation is better than where I keep mine on the porch, they always seem to get leaf blight in the late summer. If I put them out in full sun and then they get rained on, it’s worse.
    I have rose-scented and mint-scented if you would like me to send you slips to root.

    • Yes! Thank you! I’ve been searching for one called ‘Snowflake’ for years now. It used to be common, and has a wonderfully variegated large leaf. I don’t recall the scent, but it was pleasant. I’m sorry to hear you have problems with leaf blight. Ours get a lot of sun. Must be another of the vagaries of our latitudes, Eliza 😉 I hope they do better for you this year. ❤

  3. This was a great post for me to read now, WG. I’ve been pondering what I want to put in my scrounger’s garden, and now that I’ve established that I can grow flowers, I have been looking at plants for their foliage to provide more interest. We do have “the ubiquitous P. “Citronella” around the deck. It did a good job of keeping away the insects last year. I will look for some Pelargoniums the next time I’m at our local nursery. Thanks for all the info! 🙂

    • Thank you, Robin. I’m glad it helped you generate ideas for your garden. I loved our combination of a large rose scented Pelargonium growing beside African Blue Basil in a mostly sunny area last year. They attracted LOTS of attention from bumblies, butterflies and hummers; looked great in the worst heat; and kept blooming until frost. I could use both for cut flowers, too 😉 Happy planting!

  4. Always wondered what the “zonal” designation was all about. Now I know. Thanks!

    • Two of us. I could never figure out what Zone they were meant for… it makes sense when you realize it refers to ‘zones’ of color on the leaf. Leave it to the Brits to originate a name like that! 😉

  5. Great post WG, I also grow some Pelargoniums but not nearly enough considering they deal so well with the summer drought here in Italy. I usually take cuttings in late summer to overwinter in the greenhouse and many people store them in the dark in garages here. We would leave them to dry out almost completely so they become dormant, maybe yours are a little too damp. Do you find that plants near them are made unattractive to the deer by the scent of the leaves confusing them? Thanks for joining in GBFD this month and I’m looking forward to your next contributions if they are as detailed as this has been. Thanks also for the suggestion of using pots of pelargoniums to replace the box, but I think 20 large pots might be a little expensive as a temporary measure.

We always appreciate your comments. Thank you for adding your insight to the conversation.

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