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LET’S COOK: Geraniums or pelargoniums?

By Staff | Jul 27, 2018

One of the prettiest flowers to grace flower pots and flower gardens has to be the vivid geranium. This is one plant that always brings a smile to my face and memories too. Our home in Underwood always had geraniums outside in the summer and indoors in the winter. Their cheerful blooming flowers bring great joy on a winter’s day.

When you are introduced to something at an early age, it can become a lifelong interest. I claim to know very little about baseball, football, or engine repair. However, ask me about geraniums, and I can clue you in on how many innings Tango Red has bloomed. Have you ever thought about how many touch downs Ringo Salmon has made with gardeners? Now if you are looking to get your green thumb engine racing, check out “Great Balls of Fire Deep Rose.”

In my research of geraniums, I came to discover that what most of us consider to be geraniums are really pelargoniums. Yep! It caught me off guard too. I recently learned that hardy geraniums can live through frosts and pelargoniums cannot. Hardy geraniums are perennial plants that come back after being dormant over the winter and don’t require new planting. They grow close to the ground, are wide spread, and come in many varieties.

Pelargonium will die with a frost, grow taller, have much larger flowers, and their stems get woody. It is also fun to note that they, too, sport five petals, like the geranium but the two upper petals are a different shape and size from the rest, giving it an asymmetric appearance. Oh, the things one can learn by having an interest. It is confusing, I know, but now to make things even more confusing, I will refer to pelargoniums as geraniums in the rest of this column. After all, our grandparents called them geraniums, and they were still loved my many.

Many of you may recall my past comments about my beloved seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Vonderheide. She, too, was a geranium lover and had many around her home. When it came time to bringing her beloved indoors, she asked me to help. First we collected some rich garden soil and added just a slight bit of clay to it. No potting soil for her. Next the clay pots that were stored in her garage were scrubbed with pan-scouring pads while we chatted about the cheerfulness of geraniums. It was then time for an ice cream break allowing the pots to dry. Mrs. Vonderheide then pinched and pruned all into a good shape, and then I carefully dug them up and transferred them into the pots. All pots were then lined up like choir members and then thoroughly sprayed with Malathion to prevent white flies. Mrs. Vonderheide provided the taxi service with her brown Pontiac to transport them to her seventh grade classroom where they would reside in sun-filled windows for the winter months.

When those geraniums bloomed a few months later, we both were smiling. She often in winter months would pull the windows shades before departing her classroom as this protected them from the cold of winter overnight. Most of her geraniums were red but she did have a prized variety called Clorinda which had scented leaves that smelled like eucalyptus and had rich two-tone rose flowers. When I graduated from 8th grade she presented me with one of these striking geraniums, and I cherished it for many years as it resided in the front sunny window of my parent’s hardware store. Blessed are we to still have a Ringo Salmon geranium that was purchased in honor of Lydia’s baptism, and that plant is still blooming after 13 years. It had a great start as it was raised under the watchful eye of Gary Lee at the Rugby Greenhouse. Over the years, geraniums such as Tango Red, Pink Cloud, Pink Punch and Salmon Irene have all added merry bursts of color to our summer landscape and become charms of winter with their razzle-dazzle blooms indoors.

Geraniums were thought to have been first brought to England from South Africa, and people took to them like fair goers take to corndogs. Geraniums are now grown all over the world. I had the pleasure of seeing them in Valencia, Spain at the fabulous Bridge of Flowers which has a thousands of red, salmon, lavender, pink and white geraniums blooming from both sides. Their spellbinding swirled tones airs like an impressionist painting. While on the bridge, I came to chat with a gentlemen who cared for them, and he is a member of the International Geranium Society. What a motivating conversation and with his help I came to access their publication which is entitled, “Geraniums around the World.” These journals present helpful tips, feature guides to various varieties, and stimulate interest in growing geraniums.

Upon arriving home I chatted with my geraniums and mentioned that I could help them spiff up for the North Dakota State Fair. They gave it their best shot soaking up lots of sun on our clothesline but their bright fashions were slow to bloom until after the deadline! I perhaps should have told them sooner that I plan to be a card caring member of the International Geranium Society. So I made a cup of coffee to enjoy with the sugar cookies that Lydia had entered at 4-H at the fair and to take time to reflect on the many joys geraniums give around our world.

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