Varieties to sow now for summer flowering – geraniums, begonias and petunias
Derided by luminaries such as William Morris as suburban the ‘scarlet geranium’ remains most popular as summer bedding and container planting. Not a true geranium, (the hardy cranesbill geranium grows naturally here) most pelargoniums (tender geraniums) cultivated in the UK originated from South Africa. However, gardeners and growers still call these zonal pelargoniums by the familiar name of geraniums. Pelargoniums are not frost hardy so we tend to grow them as annuals, though they include perennials, sub-shrubs, shrubs and succulent types.
The first tender geranium brought to Europe was pelargonium triste to Netherlands in 1600s and thence to France and England soon after. The RHS lists 7 hybrid groups, the most popular being zonal geraniums, relatively easy to grow from seed and used for summer bedding and seasonal containers (pelargonium hortorum) of which we have series Horizon F1 and Spirit F2. Another group is the ivy-leaved geraniums (pelargonium peltatum), usually trailing and planted in hanging baskets such as variety Geranium - Summer Rain Mixed. Regal geraniums are the 2nd largest group. So called as they were first cultivated at Sandringham Palace. Regal geraniums are normally planted from potted seedlings.
A genus with nearly 1900 different species begonias can be annuals, evergreen or deciduous perennials or shrubs with fibrous, tuberous or rhizomatous roots. JustSeed series ‘Illumination’F1' and ‘Nonstop F1’ are tuberous. These Tuberhybrida are started from seed and grown on to flower in the same season. At the end of the season, the tuber can be stored and overwintered. Begonia semperflorens ‘Heaven F1’ series are fibrous rooted, grown for annual planting.
See Suburban Sue’s blog on growing begonias from seed for handy tips (applicable for growing petunias and geraniums too)
In 1831, an explorer and collector for the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, J Tweedie sent specimens from South America back to Glasgow Botanical Gardens. Petunia tweedie (grandiflora) was named after him. Earlier samples sent back to Spain placed it in the tobacco family and the Indian name PETUN was adopted.
Petunia Express™ (Grandiflora) series are superb trailing varieties with a good branching habit; Multiflora ‘Double’ Series have multiple ruffled petals; ‘Hulahoop F1’ is a picotee* variety. Multiflora are generally more compact and resistant to wet weather than Grandiflora varieties. Duo or Double series are bushy spreading annuals with double ruffled petals upto 5cm across in various shades.
For bushier plants, sow your seeds now and, after potting on, keep the temperature cool (below 10oC but frost free). This slows growth of the main stem whilst encouraging basal branching. The drawback is delayed flowering, though more of them eventually. Sowing to flowering 10 – 12 weeks (allow 2 weeks extra for double varieties)
Petunias need similar growing conditions to begonias – good seed compost, don’t cover the seed, careful watering and constant temperature Our pelleted seed is easier to handle.
*PICOTEE - a flower having one basic colour with a margin of another colour.