Pearl of the Pyrenees: It’s a plant that’s not quite what it seems

STRANGE, isn’t it, how some of the loveliest plants are seldom seen in your average garden simply because they don’t get sufficient air-play?

On these pages recently, I’ve mentioned Chilean gem francoa and the sumptuous alyogyne as being undeservedly ignored. Now comes another delight in the shape of a hardy geranium that’s not really one at all.

That’s because it’s an erodium, a close cousin of the better-known geranium but, in my book, just as desirable, if not more so.

Yet the erodium fan club doesn’t do much drum banging!

Geraniums have a lengthy list of named varieties behind them. Erodiums, though, are relative small fry, with scarcely any hybrids at all, despite there being between 60 and 90 species.

What I love about hardy erodiums is their gorgeous feathery leaves, which most geraniums lack, and their ability to bloom year on year and for weeks on end.

Now here’s a little secret – confession? – which I’ll share. On our way home from a short holiday in the Wye Valley two years ago, we stopped off at Chepstow for a stroll around the town.

After admiring a glorious municipal display of erodiums, I took the liberty of thumbing off one seed pod and quickly despatching it into my pocket.

Seed was sown under glass soon after, two germinated and, by summer 2018, the two plants were in flower, one set of foliage slightly darker than its neighbour.

I’m describing just two species here – Erodiums manescavii and pelargoniflorum – beauties, respectively, from the Pyrenees and Turkey.

Manescavii bears deep lilac-pink flowers with deeper markings over a cascading clump of intricate, ferny foliage, while pelargoniflorum delivers exotic-looking white blooms with purple veins above fragrant, crinkly leaves and with an even longer spell in bloom, often from winter’s end to midsummer.

Seed pods resemble a stork’s bill – hence the genus’s popular name – and, when ripe, seed springs off at speed and can land some distance away.

With erodium being so closely related to geranium, it begs this poser: Is it possible to cross one with the other to produce a . . . gerodium?

Whatever the answer, I shall keep eyes open for them growing wild when I visit the Pyrenees on holiday in May.

⏩⏩➡» You can buy seeds of both erodium species mentioned here from Plant World Seeds of Newton Abbot, Devon (www.plant-world-seeds.com/tel: 01803 872939).

⏩⏩➡» Erodium advice: Plant in any well-drained soil and in a sunny spot. Propagate by division, root cuttings or basal shoots in autumn or sow seeds in spring.

erodium manescavii

erodium manescavii foliage

erodium seedlings

⏩⏩➡» Purple passion: Top – the geranium-like blooms of Erodium manescavii; centre – the distinctive feathery foliage; above – a tray of young erodiums set to flower this summer.

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