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Gardening From Southern California

...fancy leaf geranium
by Gerald Burke
by Gerald Burke


Gerald Burke is a freelance travel and horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the North American Travel Journalists Association

May 13, 2007

Geraniums are probably one of the most common flowering plants we see growing in Southern California. That’s because the common geranium, Pelargonium, is easy to grow, needs little care, always blooms and grows even when you don’t water it, needs little or no fertilizer and nothing chews on it or eats it.

But there’s another geranium, the fancy leaf geranium that’s even more beautiful, in my view, and just about as hardy and easy to care for. It belongs to the group of geraniums that are called “zonal” geraniums because of the zoning you see in the leaves. And where the common geranium may show a little zoning, the fancy leaf types are a riot of colors and zones, mixtures of colors, rings of colors, borders of contrasting colors, and even with blooms that are truly superior.

To eliminate the confusion in class name, the geraniums most of us grow are really pelargoniums. True geraniums are a different plant altogether, nice in their own way, but not nearly as colorful or beautiful in the garden. But we’ve called them geraniums for years, and we might as well continue.

I’ve grown fancy leaf geraniums in containers for many years. Most have lasted well, 20 years or so, some have faded away as they got overgrown when I should have re-potted them, but they have been enjoyable all those years.

There are more than 20 different varieties of fancy leaf geraniums in the trade as started plants. They may make seed, but I’ve never seen it offered nor have my plants ever made viable seed. So if you want fancy leaf geraniums you buy started plants.

The leaf colors usually have two, sometimes more, different colors and they include greens with white borders, greens with yellow borders, green with white and reddish borders, leaves that are yellow with a large brown center, yellow with a bronze center and bronze leaves with a red zone, plus other combinations that are attractive.

One of my favorites is Skies of Italy. It has sharply lobed leaves with a yellow edging and a reddish brown zone. I also like Golden Ears, one that has golden-green leaves and a large brown center. Mrs. Henry Cox is an old variety that has a bright yellow border and a red zone. I had a plant of Vancouver Centennial that I loved, but it eventually died and I’ll replace it this year. Vancouver Centennial has star-shaped bronze leaves with a very wide brown zone and has reddish-orange flowers.

There aren’t many catalogs that list the fancy leaf geraniums, but one, Goodwin Creek Gardens, has an excellent listing and their service is good. You can contact them at Goodwin Creek Gardens, P.O. Box 83, Williams, OR 97544, telephone number 800-846-7359. I’d suggest that you visit them online at and there you can request a catalog and also see photos of the various leaf colors. Goodwin Creek Gardens also lists many other garden plants for sale.

Fancy leaf geraniums don’t need lots of special care, but they are a little more cold and frost tender than the common geranium. I move mine into a partially shaded spot in the summer and then along about September or October move them out into the sun, but they will need protection from frost or freezing during the winter. These geraniums are perfect for limited garden space in condos, apartments, and small patios.



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