Growing and Showing Pelargoniums

Brian Carlson had taken a lot of trouble to prepare an excellent talk which was greatly enjoyed by the large number of members present. Our thanks to him.

Pelargoniums are tender plants originally brought to England in the 1600s by sailors returning from the Cape. They were sold for huge amounts of money by the sailors, who presumably then had no need to return to sea!

An angel Pelargonium


At that time they were called “Geranium” which are hardy, herbaceous plants. French botanists realised that being tender they were not the same plant as Geraniums and renamed them Pelargoniums or “stork’s bill” from the shape of the seed pod.



Pelargoniums are usually grown in a pot, or as bedding. Brian recommended compost comprising 3 parts good quality multi-purpose compost to 1 part sharp sand or horticultural grit. Add slow release fertiliser according to the maker’s instructions.

A basic zonal Pelargonium

He demonstrated taking cuttings (you can do this from August onwards) and showed us a novel way to arrange them. Choose the pot you wish to use, then place another, smaller inside the first pot. Fill both pots with your compost. Now take out and empty the smaller pot and place your cuttings around the edge of the larger pot (as recommended by Monty Don).


This means that when you think they should have rooted you can simply remove the inner pot to find out. What an excellent and simple idea!

A regal Pelargonium

Brian also recommended the use of Jiffy pots as an alternative to the above. Which ever method you use, hormone rooting powder is of little use as the hormone degrades after 6 months. (I suppose a way round that if you are keen on rooting powder is to buy a pot and share the contents with your fellow gardeners, so that you use it within 6 months.



Over the winter, Brian uses a high nitrogen fertiliser then he changes to a balanced product in March then a high potash one, such as Tomorite, in April. He suggested Rose Clear Ultra and Bayer Fungus Fighter, as an insecticide and fungicide respectively.

A dwarf Pelagonium


Miniature Pelargoniums are grown in small pots and have not more than 5 inches to the top of the leaves, with flowers above. (I bought Bold Cherub from him, so you may see that in the Show – class 93 for those of you who bought plants from Brian.)


A tricolour Pelargonium

Zonal Pelargoniums are so called because of the dark coloured area in the centre of the leaf. They are classified as basic, dwarf, miniature, stellar etc. There are also fancy leaf zonal varieties with their leaves being bicolour or tricolour for example. I must say I loved the gold tricolour Warrenorth Emerald Brian showed us, which is essentially a foliage plant.


We don’t have a foliage class in the Show – do you think we should include one? Please let me know if you do.

Plants for Winter Interest

We were very grateful to Peter Burks, garden centre manager, Fermoy’s garden centre, for agreeing to talk to us, at quite short notice, when our booked speaker pulled out. It turned out to be a very enjoyable evening.

Peter Burks has a degree in horticulture and worked in garden centres around the south-west before accepting his present position with Fermoy’s. He brought with him a large number of plants, all with winter interest of some kind, either flowers, leaf colour or bark colour.

He started his talk with winter-flowering pansies. These familiar plants are hardy, flower reliably and are long-lasting. For best results, buy them in flower in late autumn or early winter and place in a sunny position.
Next chronologically are hardy cyclamen (not to be confused with winter-flowering cyclamen sold as house plants). Cyclamen do well under trees (provided the site is not too dry) and bring winter cheer to gardens and containers.
Peter brought some lovely primulas (I bought a Primula Belarina from him, which you will see if you pass my front door). There is a huge variety of these plants, with single, semi-double and double flowers. Remember to deadhead these.

Peter asked what the difference between a primula and a polyanthus is and one of our expert members correctly pointed out that polyanthus has a single strong stem bearing a cluster of flowers, while primulas have many short stems, each with a single flower.
Snowdrops should be bought in a pot in early September. Plant them immediately and don’t let them dry out.
All the above-mentioned plants will reflower year after year, except that pansies are usually replaced.

Peter then turned to bulbs. Hyacinths and daffodils are hardy and reliable and prefer a reasonably sunny position. Dividing them when they form clumps will reward you with an improved display. Please remember to enter your daffodils in our Spring Show!

Campanula are flowering earlier nowadays, probably due to climate change. Hebe pascal has lovely purple foliage in winter and is suitable for a pot. Just clip with shears after flowering to keep it the size you want.
Erysimum (wallflower) will flower all year in a sunny position. They are short-lived, so take cuttings.

Hamamelis or witch hazel prefers a slightly acidic soil. They have fragrant blooms and autumn colour. The RHS suggests growing them behind Sarcococca (Chrismas box) which also has a lovely scent. Look for small plantlets under your Christmas box. (I’ve just been to look under mine, and yes, there were some little plants – will pot them up and see what happens.)

Cut cornus (dogwood) down hard in March for lovely coloured stems (and perhaps use your cuttings for propagation). Camelias such as Sasanqua Yule Tide have a long flowering season, but need acidic soil.
Grevillea has exotic looking flowers from October to March and likes a sunny position.
The hardy viburnum gives a good show of flowers, though I notice it has been greatly over-used by whoever planted up the gardens of the new Bovis development at Bradley Bends.

Escallonia glowing embers and Choisya sundance both have lovely yellow leaves and need sun to maintain the leaf colour. Lonicera fragrantissima has fragrant winter flowers and also benefits from full sun. Abelia is another shrub which likes full sun, and while summer flowering, retains the bracts over the winter.
There are many varieties of hellibores, but plant them where they will not dry out.

Prunus kojo-no-mai is a small, very hardy cherry blossom which is ideal for a pot. Grow in half or full sun.



                    Thuja rhinegold is a pyramid-shaped conifer with an attractive rusty-red colour. It is suitable for a container, rockery or small border.

Vinca minor needs a sunny spot and will flower all year. I am about to move mine from its north facing position – no wonder it has hardly any flowers!
Winter-flowering jasmine doesn’t mind where you plant it, but it needs support, or you could plant it where it could tumble down without support. Cut it back hard (by 2/3) after flowering. Clematis cirrhosa is winter flowering and needs full sun. “Freckles” produces a lovely red streaked flower. You could hide it among your summer flowering clematis. It needs moisture and feeding, but no need to prune.

Peter recommended the use of mycorrhizal fungus to help roots develop. Remember the fungus needs to be in contact with the roots – there is no point trying to water it in.
Lastly, he recommended the use of a 1:1 mixture of Jack’s Magic compost and John Innes No 3.


Bedding Plants

The March talk was on Bedding Plants, by David Usher

David spent much of his earlier career working for Bath Parks Department before being appointed Head Gardener at the famous Hestercombe Garden in Somerset. At Hestercombe the Victorian Terrace was replanted using colours recommended by Gertrude Jekyll.

He suggested that a great use of bedding plants is to create seasonal change around more permanent plants, and recommended using plug plants for good results. David emphasised the importance of pinching out the growing tip of young plants to ensure well shaped plants. He also recommended planting media such as Sutton’s Sow and Grow Pellets, which are particularly good for cuttings.

Good air circulation is essential in the greenhouse, so don’t shut the door unless the weather is particularly bad.

David then showed examples of useful bedding plants and the growing conditions they like.

Euryops pectinatus – one of the plants recommended by David


Our Summer Show 2017

The Summer Produce Show for the Bovey Tracey Horticultural Society on
Saturday 19 th August proved to be one of the most successful held in recent
years. There were many concerns on the day before due to the continuing rain
and winds that were playing havoc with the setting up of tents etc. However, the
day itself dawned much brighter and sunnier and continued to be so as the day

The Society prides itself on holding one of the remaining few traditional
produce shows in the area, as many others have become village fairs. The
principal attraction was the bountiful main marquee full of a range of the best
produce Bovey Tracey could find. This included both flowers and vegetables
and a very popular domestic section which seems to grow in popularity every

Judging taking place at the Bovey Tracey Horticultural Society 2017 Summer Show

The picture shows the domestic judges hard at work finding the best cooks in town!

Normally most gardeners will tell you what a difficult season it has been with the weather – never quite what you wanted or expected. However, this was easily discounted with the large number of flower and vegetable entries. Magnificent carrots, enormous onions, perfect potatoes were in plentiful supply, and the judges had a difficult time in deciding the winners.

A fabulous variety of entries at the Bovey Tracey Horticultural Society 2017 Summer Show

The afternoon was serenaded by the Torbay Brass Band and the Newton Bushell Morris team also provided colourful entertainment with their traditional music and dances. There was an ever popular dog agility display and a flower arranging demonstration showed how flower arrangers can work their magic. For the first time there was even a Beer Tent together with a selection of other local stalls which provided a wide range of interests for people to enjoy.

A re-arrangement of the field proved to be popular, and over 600 people came along to enjoy not only the wonderful display of produce, but the tea and cakes as well in a very well attended tea tent!

A Society spokesman explained how relieved they were with the weather after a very wet event last year, and said they will be hoping for similar success next year.