We had never seen so many healthy Geranium plants as when we last visited the Cordoba Patio Garden Festival some eight years ago with some 60 to 70 inner patio gardens with wonderfully colourful patios open to the public for twelve days each May. Some dedicated to Geraniums, with up to eight hundred hanging pots covering the walls within in a single small patio garden. Others had a mix of Geraniums and cascading petunias like you’ve never seen.
Then we visited a number of garden centres at the time overflowing with new offerings of Geraniums, from the hot houses of more northerly regions of Spain and the EU. Lastly we walked across the ‘piece de resistance’ of the Geranium world in Spain that year. The Pont d’Aragon Bridge across the old watercourse of the river Turia in Valencia, decked with twenty thousand Geraniums stacked as a double sided wall, stretching right across the bridge on either side of the roadway. We thought ‘Where have the Geranium moths gone?’ and ‘Who does all the watering and dead heading?’
The answers were not hard to find and made the mind boggle. Such displays were not for the amateur gardener.
The truth about Cordoba.
- By the time we had visited most of the patios during a long day on foot, we realised that perhaps only a quarter were dedicated to Geraniums and that these were generally only prepared and fully maintained for the period of the fiesta. Others were genuine residential patios full of a wide variety of evergreen plants, succulents, pots of bulbous plants with just a few seasonal petunias and Geraniums; the sort of patio garden that would be cool and colourful throughout the year. At one point we wandered from one Geranium temple into a more natural patio tended by a group of elderly neighbours. Their Geraniums were not as virulent as in the last patio. We asked why. The answer was, ‘We try and keep our Geraniums from year to year and take cuttings from those that survive the summer oven of Cordoba. It reached 50 degrees in the shade last year. We don’t get any subsidy like next door does and can’t afford to buy hundreds of new plants every year.’ We walked through an arch into an adjacent patio that was in the competition. Eight hundred fresh plants festooned the walls. Not a dead head or poor plant to be seen.
- We chatted to the owners. ‘No we don’t keep this up all summer. We water and dead head in preparation for and during the festival, but then cut back on the watering and hours of daily care. We can only water with a small half litre tilting can on the end of a 4 or 5 metre pole. It takes us 4 hours a day to just water each plant every other day. In two months, most will have succumbed to the sun and Geranium moth. It would be difficult to spray chemicals within these four high walls. Yes, we buy 800 new plants every March! It’s worth all the effort if we win a prize that year.’
- When we later visited several nurseries along the Costas, they were filled with newly delivered Geraniums from the hot houses of Holland, Italy, Germany etc as well as Spain. We wondered how many would make it through the summer, as most were the upright zonal varieties, Geraniums that are more susceptible to attack by the dreaded Geranium moth. Interestingly, 95% of Geraniums in Cordoba were of the ivy leaved trailing varieties, or crinkly leafed pelargoniums that are more resistant.
The truth about Valencia.
Intrigued by the freshness of the display on the Pont d’Aragon, we phoned the park’s department.
‘Oh, we maintain the display until December when we change the display to 10,000 poinsettias. Keeping up the display is almost a full time job. Watering is by an inbuilt irrigation system. It needs checking many times a week and the task of dead-heading, spraying against the Geranium moths, replacing poor and missing plants is very labour intensive, but the display makes a wonderful entrance to the town and tourists love it as you obviously did.’
Yes, we did enjoy both the displays in Cordoba and Valencia, but it suggested that a resumé of the care Geraniums require in our more normal garden displays would be timely.
Whether you have space for one or ten Geraniums in pots, window boxes or flower beds do:
- Only purchase strong healthy plants.
- Assume the worst and spray new plants against the Geranium moth the day you get them home from the garden centre and then ensure you then re-spray weekly.
- Water to just keep damp; probably every other day during hot weather.
- Feed weekly with a Geranium fertilizer.
- Dead head, and remove dead leaves weekly. Also remove any rubbish that builds up on the top of the soil in pots.
- Watch out for the small holes surrounded by a black circle that indicates that a Geranium moth has been around in spite of your spraying. Prune out affected stems.
- Take cuttings of your best plants in the autumn to propagate new plants for an even better display next spring.
Yes, we recognise that Geraniums are not for everyone, especially since the mid 1990’s when the Geranium moth appeared. That’s why we list, describe and illustrate some 400 plants in ‘Your Garden In Spain – From Planning To Planting And Maintenance’ together with English Spanish and botanical names.
These days the easiest way of obtaining our books is by mail order from Bookworld, Santana Books and Amazon.