First pelargonium from seed!

I am beyond excited that the first pelargonium I grew from seed, Pelargonium quinquelobatum, flowered this week. I have been obsessed by this species pelargonium since seeing it last summer at Derry Watkin’s nursery, Special Plants, near Bath. Its quixotic color stopped me short: I had never seen a flower so unusual.

One of my first jobs while studying photography at university was working in a photo processing store where I sat at a machine that developed customers’ photos—back when we all still used film, ha! Part of my job was evaluating the images and making color corrections to remove incorrect balances in cyan, magenta, and yellow. I developed an excellent eye for seeing unusual color casts at that job, and when I look at the flower of Pelargonium quinquelobatum I immediately see a strange muddle of cyan and magenta in its petals that resembles a poorly balanced photograph. This color in a flower absolutely fascinates me, but the maddening thing is that I’ve found it impossible to capture in a photograph, despite trying different cameras, lenses and light conditions. Though the flowers in my images here look like a generic rose, they are far from that color in real life.

I originally tried to grow Pelargonium quinquelobatum (named for its five-lobed leaves) last summer. I had no luck with germination, I suspect because the extreme heat made it challenging to control the temperature in my glasshouse. This year I sowed reserved seeds on March 12, and they sat for months doing nothing, until I about gave up. And then one precious seedling poked its head above the soil, and the only way I could tell it was a pelargonium and not a wind-blown weed was from the distinctive smell of its leaves.

I coddled this young plant, and it is the one you see in these pictures. The irony is that when I potted it on a couple of weeks ago and stuck it outside with the rest of my collection, two of its kind germinated right at its base, no doubt from seeds that hitched a ride into their new container! It always humbles me that though we work so hard to nurture plants sometimes all they need is to be left alone to get on with their lives in their own good time.

In other unusually colored pelargonium news, I’ve achieved my first flower on Pelargonium gibbosum. It’s a stunning lime-green, another color not often seen in flowers. I bought this young plant last month at Fibrex Nurseries, home of the national pelargonium collection. That trip was a pilgrimage for me, and will no doubt the the subject of a blog post some day soon.

Dec. 10: Floral advent calendar: Viola x wittrockiana 'Bunny Ears'

On the totally other end of the viola spectrum from yesterday’s post is this hybrid Viola x wittrockiana ‘Bunny Ears,’ which was developed in Japan and is relatively new to the U.K. market. While Viola spathulata is an understated and elegant species, ‘Bunny Ears’ is a highly bred cultivar that purists may find a bit over-engineered. I, however, love it. The elongated upper petals that give it its namesake are very unusual in violas, and the smaller-than-standard flower size is intriguing and invites close observation. I am always on the lookout for nice violas, finding them indispensable for winter container displays, and I believe I’ve found a new favorite in ‘Bunny Ears.’ It’s just that little bit more interesting than your usual bog-standard garden center viola.

I sowed ‘Bunny Ears’ from seed this summer and now have a few plants blooming in clay plots right outside my front door. Together with some pots of Erigeron karvinskianus they make a cheerful winter display of tiny, unique flowers that are helping to fight off the dark days of mid-December.

Dec. 1 Floral advent calendar: Lunaria annua 'Chedglow'

I visit gardens, plant shows, and nurseries year-round, and I am constantly photographing plants and flowers that catch my eye. I have collected thousands of these flower photos that never make it into blog posts but are still valuable to me for education and inspiration. I thought it would be nice to share some of these flowers here, one for each day of advent this December.

First up is Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow,’ which caught my attention in April at the Harrogate Flower Show. This plant was all over the nursery displays, actually glowing when exhibited on dark backgrounds. Its deep purple-brown leaves and magenta flowers looked particularly fine with the dark-leaved elder, Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ (below).

Lunaria, or honesty, is a biennial that germinates one year to flower the next. I bought some seeds of ‘Chedglow’ and sowed them this past summer, when I sowed other biennials such as wallflowers and foxgloves. All my other seeds germinated and went on to grow well, but ‘Cheglow’ refused to appear. It’s too bad, but I was consoled to learn that the gardeners at Sissinghurst had trouble germinating it this summer as well. At least I am not alone…and there is always next year to try again.