Geraniums and pelargoniums — it is a botanist’s work to decide which name to apply under what circumstances. For the purpose of arrangement I think it is best to use the one term of geranium. Theare charming, invaluable for decoration and come in a great variety of colours — white, palest pink, salmon-pink, rose-pink, scarlet, deep red, carmine, cerise, pale mauve, crimson, etc., and the foliage is a most attractive shape and comes in many colourings from the plain green to the more marked zonal plants, with circles of white, yellow or bronze, according to the type.
Just as there are experts on lilies, roses, hydrangeas and, so there are experts on geraniums. Books are written about them and whole nurseries, as with clematis, are given up entirely to growing them. It would be impertinent to discuss geraniums in too much detail without this expert knowledge but anyone seriously interested in propagating them should get in touch with a nursery garden or go to a good library or bookshop and ask for books on this subject. (There is, for enthusiasts, a geranium society.)
Let us take the colours of the geranium flowers first, and see how they may be utilised in an arrangement. It has always seemed to me that the value of white geraniums has been under-rated. For an all white group, perhaps a table decoration, there can be few more suitable flowers to arrange, in a whitewith two or three buds of Iceberg or Virgo roses and short sprays of tradescantia. White geraniums usually have plain green , but if one has a zonal plant with the white edged green foliage, these leaves look most attractive with the white flowers.
There is perhaps not enough contrast in shape or colour for white geraniums to be used with white carnations as a wedding table decoration, but white garden pinks would make a contrast, I think if kept on longishwith the geranium flowers cut quite short.
If the flowers are taken off as they begin to fall it will be found that the surrounding buds open out and the arrangement will have a long life. I have known a similar group of white geraniums and coloured geranium leaves to last for nearly a fortnight, with only this small amount of tidying being necessary.
The ivy leaf geranium which has the soft rosy-coloured flowers is of great value, either arranged alone or with other pinks and purples, or as a contrast to creamy-white. The leaves often come on quite long stems or else in charming small clusters close to the flowers, and if the whole can be spared this may almost make a decoration in itself, suitable for a plate or dish on a dining table in much the same way as a spray of clematis. The ivy shaped leaves, valuable in their own right with the rather light green of their usual colouring, combine well with yellow or orange roses such as the sweet scented bouffant Gloire de Dijon or Emily Gray. They are also useful as a contrast with darker foliage like a spray of camellia or the neat pointed leaves of myrtle.
Flowers of the ivy leaf geranium are fun to use with clashing reds and pinks, and a collection of these cut from different geraniums can be most exciting and colourful. The green of a Wedgwood plate is a good background colour for such a group, and although it may be an unorthodox colour scheme, it can also be exhilarating when used occasionally.
The serrated leaves of this scented geranium plant often come on longish stems, like the ivy leaf geranium, which is especially useful when a little extra height or width is needed for a table arrangement. These leaves are charming in themselves and seem to flourish when kept in the house, providing a constant supply of useful material at a time when they are most needed.
A group of geraniums can look attractive, as I have mentioned, on a flat Wedgwood plate, and they will also gain added importance from being arranged in a shallow dish with a low pedestal. This shape gives an opportunity for more spreading branches and if the plants are doing well a larger spray might be spared with the added attraction of clusters of new unfolded leaves. But for white geraniums a whiteis, I think, especially suited.
Contrasts in colour can be obtained by using a red geranium, i.e. Pillar-box, with certain purple blue, or with one spike of yellow where each floret is cut off the stem and arranged low down on a flat dish. The bright red is also, of course, valuable for Christmas decorations. A toning colour effect may be obtained by using the true purple of anemones, especially one or two of the clear, lighter shades, with the rose- flowers of the ivy leaf geranium.
Geraniums seem to prefer being rather more dry than damp, but contrary to some ideas, they do repay extra care and treatment. It is a mistake to keep them in large—they seem to prefer for their the cosiness of a small one. Geraniums, unlike so many indoor plants, do not like to have their feet standing in a damp saucer or on wet shingle. On the other hand, their soil must not be allowed to get dry and hard. Whether the idea of them with cold tea is an old wives’ tale I could not say, but personally I have often done so and it seems to suit them.
Perhaps geraniums can be described as an ‘architectural’ plant almost as much as other more obvious ones, such as acanthus or globe artichoke, both of which are well-known for the structure and shape of their flowers and leaves. (The acanthus leaf, especially, is one which has often featured in wood carvings, sculpture, etc.) But the sturdiness of the geranium stem, the arrangement and shape of its leaves and the general `bunchiness’ of many of the flowers all contribute to a certain type of group when the flowers and leaves are arranged together and not with other flowers or foliage.
This is something important to remember as it means that a definite outline is almost sure to emerge when using geraniums which may be quite unobtainable in any other material. It is so often the colour of the flowers which first catches the attention when, in fact, the whole structure of the plant may be its most important contribution to an arrangement.