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Until recently, the second Tuesday in May meant nothing to Walsall’s Gary Carroll who is one of the country’s foremost hardy geranium growers and specialists. “I didn’t even know there was a National Geranium Day.”

The day goes back to 1926 when geraniums were sold to raise funds for the National Institute For The Blind. May 10th is Geranium Day. Not Pelargonium Day. “There’s a big difference,” says the owner Cranesbill Nursery, Bloxwick. “But they’re always confused for each other. Maybe it should be called National Cranesbill Day or Hardy Geranium Day.Gers

“The use of the name geraniums to describe pelagoniums and vice-versa is well and truly stuck. And been stuck since 1753 when Swedish botanist and plant namer, Carl Linnaeus grouped them all together with erodiums.  I don’t think there’s any chance it will unstick, any time soon. They both belong to the Geraniaceae family.”

Carroll, whose love of gardening began in his grandfather Jim’s allotment in Bloxwick, attended the local Rodbaston Horticultural College. After working at Walsall Arboretum, he ended up in the middle of the Australian outback as head gardener at the five-star Ayers Rock Resort in Alice Springs. Returning home, he worked as a lorry driver. “Driving around the ring roads in Coventry wasn’t quite the same.”Gers4

Eventually, he got a job in the gardens of the National Trust’s Moseley Old Hall, where Charles 11 hid in a priest hole after the battle of Worcester in 1651. Then, in 2016,  he bought  Cranesbill Nursery, transplanting 3000 hardy perennials from Tewkesbury to the Midlands. He now grows 15000-2000 a year, sharing his working life with black-eyed Ann Folkards, a number of Rozannes, numerous Dilys, Carols and Patricias as well as members of the Mrs Kendall Clark, Bill Wallis and  Mavis Simpson families. Most common geranium varieties were created and named by Orkney’s Alan Bremner.

Geraniums come from the Latin for crane which describes their distinct seed heads. Pelargoniums are South African and named after the Greek for stork after the shape of their fruits. Hardy geraniums have symmetrical leaves. Pelargoniums have irregular shaped leaves.  Both offer a a long season of pollen and nectar for a number of pollinators, particularly bees.Gers5

Most geraniums are winter hardy plants. Pelargoniums are winter tender. Lately, they both have had to weather criticism for being naff and populist. And some German breeders have even started a social media campaign to reinstate the family’s reputation. The Royal Horticultural Society’s National Pelargonium Collection is touring various site this summer as a PR and reputation management exercise to encourage younger gardener to buy more and not disparage them as “the poor man’s rose”.

The geranium family is seen by some in the same light as bizzy lizzies,  marigolds, begonias and  bedding plants in general as , at best, “ bedint” ( middle class) and, to some neighbours,  an affront to the road.Gers2-1

Geranium lovers and experts like Gary Carroll know that cranesbills are not the hoi polloi of the horticultural world. Not just ground cover or cottage garden core plants but very versatile and useful.  Perfect for dry shade, damp shade, dry sun, damp sun, rockeries, back of border, middle and front, offering a variety of colours and leaf shapes. June is a good time for planting.

“Growing up, we never had any. In my teens, I bought a lovely dark-leaved variety, probably  Victor Reiter Junior. I’ve still go it. There are over 400 species and 200 varieties of cranesbill. The tallest, commercially available is G.psilostemon which can grow to 4’ and the smallest , cinereum.

“If you like something, then grow it. Stop worrying about what other people think. I love hardy geraniums more than pelargoniums.  But I still like pelargoniums.

“How can geraniums – pelargoniums- be common when the Queen has planted the island outside Buckingham Palace with bright red Grenadiers?”

The new Cranesbill Nursery catalogue contains beautiful , lo-no maintenance plants like the ruffled pink Ballerina, the dainty Bob’s Blunder,  luminous soft mauve Cambridge, violet-purple dry shade Clos du Coudray, Coombeland White, the sprawling Crystal Lake, Jolly Jewel Raspberry,  Lakwijk Star,  the dark maroon Moruning Widow and the pearlescent  white Silverwood with its glossy foliage.

Diversity is important. But so is equality. National Geranium Day is a chance to look at geraniums  with fresh eyes and address the injustice. Says  Carroll :  “Snobbery stems from a lack of understanding.”