MRS. URSULA KEY-DAVIS – CURATOR
C/o FIBREX NURSERIES LTD. PEBWORTH, STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, WARKS. CV37 8XT.
The National Collection founder, the late Mrs. Hazel Key of Fibrex Nurseries Ltd. proposed the setting up of a National Pelargonium Collection as she had been collecting pelargoniums since the early 1950s.
Hazel’s wealth of knowledge gained over many years of growing pelargonium’, allowed her to travel abroad to many countries to collect further plants in efforts to increase the scope of the Collection and to continue researching them further.
For over 50 years, in partnership with her husband Richard and subsequently three of their children, Ursula, Angel and Richard, they built up a large commercial nursery growing a wide range of pelargonium’s, from rare species to the most modern cultivar. The business expanded so much that in March 1985 they were obliged to move the nursery to a larger site in Pebworth and the National Pelargonium Collection was set up on the same site.
On June 5th 1987 the National Collection was opened officially by Mr. Ashley Stephenson, LVO, the then bailiff of the Royal Parks and also President of the British Pelargonium and Geranium Society. The National Collection is open during Spring and Summer and the increasing numbers of visitors each year have included individuals and parties representing both specialist and general gardening societies. Many internationally recognised Pelargonium experts have been amongst the visitors from the USA, South Africa, Australia, Europe, etc. whilst the species are of great interest to botanists, scientists and students alike.
The National Pelargonium Collection is the largest in Great Britain and probably in the world covering as it does both species and cultivars.
The aims of the Collection are the important conservation of as many types of Pelargonium as possible and to make all gardeners aware that the very large and important Pelargonium genus enables the horticultural industry to generate millions of pounds annually. The genus contains about 250 species of which about only 20 or so were used to produce the cultivars belonging to the regal, ivy-leaved, scented-leaved, unique and zonal Pelargonium sections (often wrongly called Geraniums). Today’s Pelargonium cultivars are from breeding lines over 200 years old and many more worthwhile cultivars could be produced once it is universally recognised that their forebears are Pelargonium species. It is hoped to re-create these earliest cultivars using both research from early books and step by step hybridisation and thus establish the original parent species and the different breeding lines. There are more than 1,500 different plant species and cultivars in the Collection, including examples from South Africa, Australia, USA, etc. Plants are added as they are identified and deemed worthy of inclusion. The ultimate object is to collect, collate correctly name and classify all available Pelargonium species and cultivars.
Introduction to Pelargonium’s
The name Pelargonium derives from the Greek word pelargos, meaning stork, because the Pelargonium seed head is shaped like the beak of a stork. In the past the plants have been referred to as stork’s bills but it is unusual to use that name today. Because of this beak-like seed head, botanists placed pelargoniums in the Geranium family and for some years after their discovery by plant collectors, they were classified in error as geraniums by the early botanists.
Species are plants found growing naturally in the world, uncultivated by man. Some cross pollination does take place between the different species and these natural crosses are called primary hybrids. Pelargonium species were discovered and collected in the early 17th century during voyages around the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, by ships of the Dutch East India Company.
Although at first sight they appeared to be geraniums, detailed studies by the Dutch botanist Johann Burman and his son Nicholas, revealed important botanical differences which required a separate classification for these plants. This view was later supported by the French botanist, Charles Louis L’Heritier, and the name Pelargonium was declared by publication by him in 1778-1779 although it took a while before all botanist agreed.
The majority of Pelargonium species are native plants of South Africa. These species are capable of adapting to and flourishing in a variety of environments and soils. Many thrive in arid areas of prolonged drought and at various altitudes. Others appreciate the moisture from heavy mists or short periods of seasonal rainfall.
In arid areas and thin soils, some species have tuberous roots for storing water or long fibrous roots which can search for water to a depth of several feet. Species can even survive in areas of sparse vegetation by growing sharp thorns or scented leaves to discourage the activities of grazing animals. Today around 250 species pelargoniums have been identified and botanists have found it necessary to sub-divide them into 16 sections. In addition there are some well established primary hybrids.
These are plants which have been cultivated by man as distinct from species or natural hybrids, hence the name cultivar, i.e. a cultivated plant. They are grouped under the main headings of zonal Pelargonium, stellar Pelargonium, cactus Pelargonium, rosebud pelargonium, regal Pelargonium, ivy-leaved Pelargonium, unique Pelargonium, scented-leaved Pelargonium and angel Pelargonium. All types of Pelargonium have these basic characteristics in various forms and can all be seen in the National Collection.
The popularity of pelargoniums has waxed and waned for over 300 years but now they are firmly established as one of the best known and popular garden and greenhouse plants. There is still confusion in the minds of many people about the name Pelargonium because for many decades the zonal pelargoniums ( P. x hortorum ) have been called ‘geraniums’ by some commercial growers as well as by gardeners. This is particularly true of the F1, F2, etc. seed hybrids which are always listed as ‘geraniums’ in seedmen’s catalogues.
Pelargonium species were used in the production of the first cultivars but over the last 200 years hybridisation has been only among the cultivars with very little recourse to the species to enhance the cultivars. The majority of gardeners probably do not know which species were used to give us the beautiful plants we are able to grow today.
All specialists, gardeners and the general public are invited to pay the Collection a visit to see a wide range of plants, to glean information and thus stimulate an interest in growing wonderful pelargoniums.
You will definitely find your visit worthwhile and it is important to note there is no charge for admission and you will be welcomed warmly.