Call it an obsession if you will, but I am continually searching for the biggest and boldest plants that will wow our guests when they enter Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. One way of doing this is to bring in plants that many have possibly never encountered before. With a touch of the exotic in the garden, it makes garden visitors oooh and awww at the presence of something new in their midst. These oooh’s and awww’s can have a little special twist when these new plants look somewhat familiar. I can already anticipate the responses from avid gardeners when I tell them that the 5 foot tall plant in front of them is a geranium. “A geranium?!? Well, I thought it did look a bit like a geranium but there is no way that one could ever get this big.”
Enter into the garden the magnificent Geranium maderense or Madeira Island geranium. There is absolutely no way that this geranium would stand a chance of being hardy along our USDA zone 6a garden as it completely turns to mush below 25 degrees Fahrenheit. I do not care if it is hardy or not, I want to find someone growing these and plant them in our summer garden beds. Geranium maderense is a biennial so we would need to find someone growing them into their second year or set aside some valuable real estate in our greenhouse for a dozen or so plants. Our plant propagator would freak out if I asked her to grow a dozen plants that get up to 4 feet wide in a greenhouse for over a year.
The first time I saw one of these plants was in the conservatory of Longwood Gardens. I had that initial reaction of amazement along with some hint of familiarity with this plant. Since seeing these plants, I also saw an informal grouping in a courtyard at the Victoria and Albert museum in London. With our mild summers and continual moisture, I am hoping that Geranium maderense will thrive under our conditions. The large, light pinkish-purple flowers are borne on erect stems above the foliage. The large, dark green leaves are also spectacular. They are shaped like a mitt (technical term – palmate) and look spectacular even when the plants are not in flower.
I will end this week’s plant post with a plea: do you know of anyone growing the Madeira Island geranium for sale? If so, please let me know as we would love to add such a showstopper to our gardens next year. Also, have you ever been fortunate enough to grow this spectacular plant?