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Unexpected Seedlings

August 22, 2014

G. oxonianumOne of my favorite hardy geraniums, growing in many different places in my garden, is Geranium x oxonianum. This is a naturally occurring hybrid of G. endressii and G. versicolor. It  has funnel-shaped clear pink flowers and a habit of sprawling outward from a central clump of foliage, with long flowering arms that drape themselves over nearby plants. The first G. x oxonianum that I added to my garden was identified as ‘A.T. Johnson’ and had the silvery pink flowers for which that variety is known. I later added other varieties, including one that was labeled as ‘Wargrave Pink’ (which is actually a named variety of G. endressii) and one labeled as ‘Claridge Druce.’ Both of these had salmon pink flowers (and, in fact, I could never tell them apart). Later, I got a division from a friend of a plant also identified as ‘Wargrave Pink,’ but which has much deeper pink and more deeply veined flowers. (This may actually be G. endressii.)

gburg a.t. johnson geranium x oxonianum G endressii August

Over time, I have given up trying to distinguish these geranium varieties from one another. The various plants have been divided and moved around several times; and in some cases their roots have become intertwined so that I sometimes have what seems to be a single plant with both silvery pink and salmon pink flowers (see From Two Plants to One: My Own ‘Hybrid’ Geranium).

oxonianum seedlingsI have always assumed that these hybrid plants had sterile flowers and could only be propagated by division. So it was quite a surprise this June to discover two small clumps of Geranium x oxonianum growing among the goldenrod at the edge of the blue and yellow border. Since this is one of the few flower beds in which I never planted G. x oxonianum, these could only be self-sown seedlings. Some reading in Peter Yeo’s Hardy Geraniums (Timber Press, 2001) enlightened me. I discovered that Geranium x oxonianum is not sterile – although, as is typical of hybrids, the offspring won’t necessarily be the same as the parents. I also learned that these plants can project their seeds to considerable distances from the parents, and that Geranium x oxonianum varieties are difficult to sort out because they combine and recombine so readily.

oxonianum seedling flowersMy new plants have the clear pink funnel-shaped flowers that I love so much, and they seem to be the silvery pink color that I prefer. The only mystery that remains is why these first seedlings appeared more than a decade after I first planted G. x oxonianum in my garden. Whatever the reason, I am delighted to have them. I will leave them to grow where they are for now, but these unexpected seedlings are destined for homes in my new front garden.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. Laurin Lindsey permalink
    August 22, 2014 5:09 pm

    I love geraniums! Those are so very charming and what a treat that they had babies : )

    • August 24, 2014 10:48 pm

      Laurin, I also love the Geranium genus. I’m realizing that what these plants have in common with my other plant love, daylilies, is that they are easy to grow in my conditions, are generally free of pests and diseases, and come in an amazing variety. I am very, very happy to welcome these babies.

  2. August 22, 2014 5:10 pm

    I love surprise seedlings in the gardens. Some will lay quietly for years and then pop up in an unexpected place. I grew Datura, which I did not like because of its reseeding properties. Took them out and picked out seedlings for a couple of years and then after 5 years here pops up a new seedling. It was determined to be in my garden, I did not allow it to stay. Same thing with some Lunaria. It has been years and I still find seedlings popping up. Such fun gardening is.

    • August 25, 2014 10:16 pm

      Linda, I think I might have become one of those too-neat gardeners who yank out any unexpected seedlings on first sight were it not for the influence of Jean Moss, whose garden-turned-nursery I visited when I was becoming serious about gardening. She talked enthusiastically about letting plants reproduce and seeing what their offspring turned out to be. Now I tend to let all kinds of things go until they bloom. If they turn out to be unprepossessing weeds, I yank them out before they go to seed. These seedlings were a special treat. 🙂

  3. August 22, 2014 7:16 pm

    That’s the best kind of surprise. I have a particular affection for the true geraniums, although, sadly, they haven’t performed as well in my current garden as they did in my former, cooler and shadier, garden. I hope your new seedlings thrive and spread.

    • August 25, 2014 10:19 pm

      Kris, Geranium x oxonianum is a good example of a true geranium that is not heat tolerant. In my Gettysburg garden, where I had planted a division from my Maine garden, they bloomed prettily in late May and early June and then went dormant in the heat of summer not to bloom again until the following spring. In the cooler climate of my Maine garden, I get to enjoy their pink flowers all summer long.

  4. Nell Jean permalink
    August 22, 2014 8:42 pm

    I love surprises.

    • August 25, 2014 10:20 pm

      Me, too! And this was a particularly nice surprise. 🙂

  5. August 23, 2014 9:16 am

    It’s nice to have some decent seedlings coming up rather than more dandelions and thistles! I judge my garden’s progress by what fills the weedbucket, it keeps getting better 🙂
    So how does it feel not packing things up this August?

    • August 25, 2014 10:21 pm

      Bittster, I love the idea of progressing to a higher class of weed. 🙂 This is the week that school starts at Gettysburg College, so I am enjoying the luxury of an extended summer.

  6. August 25, 2014 8:14 am

    Isn’t it lovely when things self-sew and you aren’t expecting them to? I would never have imagined the geranium would! (My perennial lobelia self-seed like crazy, and yet the friend who gave them to me says hers never do. Plants sometimes have a mind of their own.) Enjoy the last bit of August, Jean.

    • August 25, 2014 10:25 pm

      Diane, These were almost as big a treat as the goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) seedling that popped up near my woodpile one year. It was especially unexpected because goatsbeard is dioecious, meaning that reproduction requires both a male and female plant, I only had one, and I wasn’t aware of another in my neighborhood. But clearly there was another parent somewhere to fertilize mine. I transplanted the seedling to my nursery bed, where it bloomed for the first time this year. It will probably find a home somewhere in my new front garden.

  7. August 26, 2014 8:41 pm

    Wow how lucky to have these very lovely seedlings grace your garden and hold over just in time for your new garden.

    • August 27, 2014 5:47 pm

      Donna, It’s true. Although I could divide some of my existing plants to add to the new front garden, the timing of these seedlings seems particularly auspicious.

  8. August 27, 2014 1:30 am

    One of the real joys of gardening are the surprises, the truly unexpected.

    • August 27, 2014 5:48 pm

      Charlie, I agree. Especially for a control freak like me, the garden provides a constant, lovely reminder of the joys of not being in control of everything.

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