Geranium farreri (Farrer’s geranium)
Farrer’s geranium is described as one of the most delicate and charming of all geraniums.
About this species
The genus Geranium has over 300 species, and includes some of the most popular garden perennials. Many of the smaller species are suitable for a rock garden, raised bed or alpine house.
The British botanist, Reginald Farrer, and a companion, the Kew-trained William Purdom, set out on an ambitious expedition to Tibet and north-west China in 1914. He found numerous hardy species which today enrich British gardens. Farrer was particularly captivated by the geranium he discovered in August 1914 in the Min Shan Mountains of China. This plant, previously unknown to science, was named Geranium farreri by Otto Stapf in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine in January 1926. Geranium farreri is considered one of the most delicate and charming of all geraniums.
Geography & Distribution
Found in China, in south Gansu and north-west Sichuan.
This species dies down completely for the winter but in early spring the new shoots emerge to form a low mound of foliage, topped by the large, pale pink blooms, up to 3.5 cm across, with blue-black anthers (male parts). The whole plant reaches only 10–15 cm tall.
The long-stalked leaves are 2–5 cm wide and deeply divided into seven segments, each segment subdivided into three broad lobes. The rounded petals become very narrow near the base (claw), revealing the green sepals behind.
The closely related species, Geranium napuligerum, differs in having glandular (covered with glands) rather than eglandular (without glands) hairs, densely hairy sepals, and filaments (stalks that bear the anthers) with long hairs.
Farrer’s original collection was numbered F. 201 but he only managed to obtain two seeds. He tentatively named it Geranium pylzowianum var. alpinum. Seeds from another collection, number F.170, were distributed widely and gave rise to two distinct plants at Kew. The first had slender rhizomes (underground stems) with tuber-like swellings at intervals along their length and narrowly dissected leaves. The second had a short, stout rhizome with thickened roots and leaves divided into short, broad lobes. It is the second plant that Stapf described as G. farreri (the first was G. pylzowianum).
Geranium farreri is cultivated as an ornamental.
Geranium farreri (Image: Richard Wilford)
This is a hardy species that grows well in a sunny position on a rock garden or raised bed if planted in free-draining soil. It cannot tolerate much moisture during its winter dormant phase but from spring to autumn the soil should never be allowed to dry out completely.
The wide, pale pink flowers are held above the leaves in late spring or early summer. Plants often produce some late flowers and a new flush of leaves later in the year.
The easiest way to propagate this species is by detaching a few shoots from the edge of the clump, just below ground level, and inserting them into a pot of sandy soil in the summer. Some detached shoots may already have some roots and these can be pushed directly into the ground, where they will soon grow away if conditions are not too hot and dry.
In May 1921 this species received an Award of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) as a pale-flowered form of G. pylzowianum. It received an Award of Merit again at the Chelsea Flower Show in May 1924, when it was called Geranium ‘Farrer’s Pink’. By this time it was already known as G. farreri in the horticultural trade but the Floral Committee of the RHS considered it to be allied to, and probably identical with, G. napuligerum. The name G. napuligerum was incorrectly applied to this plant for many years. However, in his book on hardy geraniums, Peter Yeo states that he can find no evidence that true G. napuligerum has ever been in cultivation.
This species at Kew
Pressed and dried specimens of Geranium farreri are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers, by appointment. The details of three of these can be seen on-line in the Herbarium Catalogue.
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