Emma Townshend: 'An impressive delivery of geraniums has renewed my faith in mail order plants'
Sunday 04 May 2014
So look, I'm not the biggest orderer of seeds and small plants. A lot of my garden is big mature leaves, and frankly a known danger zone for container planting, which starts off well and tends to wither away by the end of summer as I lose the requisite passion for daily watering. But this year I was tempted by one thing only: Sweet Williams. I am a massive sucker for a Sweet William: there is no perfume I love more. Why can't Stella McCartney put that in a bottle?
Anyway, I saw an offer to order a bunch of them, to be raised from plugs. Now, for some reason, I'd never ordered plugs before, but I imagined I'd be receiving, for my £16, 10 thumb-sized plants. Maybe even slightly bigger.
Dream on, Townshend. When the box arrived, I was quite shocked. The totally trusty old household brand name that had shipped out the plants looked immediately doubtful in my eyes. It was only a bit bigger than a Jiffy bag. And the "plug plants" were more like recently germinated seedlings. I felt so disappointed. My dreams of picking my own Sweet Williams (which has so far happened only once in my life, the year I had an allotment) went back to the drawing board.
So by the start of April, I thought I'd sworn off postal plant purchases full stop. But then Mark Diacono, who has often featured in these pages, sent me a tempting email. In fact, all his subscribers at Otter Farm received this missive, which contained the crucial words "scented geraniums". Now, scented geraniums are my weakness. Perhaps that should be another of my weaknesses. I'd have more if I had a greenhouse to overwinter them in, but at present the tender varieties live in the sitting-room through December frosts, keenly limiting numbers.
So, Mark's Otter Farm nursery was promising to send another lot of small plants, and I decided to give it a go, hoping that a friend wouldn't let me down – not that I relied on any favours, submitting my order anonymously online and crossing my fingers tightly.
Though they took only five days to arrive, I think I was rather mystified when they turned up. To start with, the gigantic box. Gigantic. Eight plants? Surely they've sent me the wrong thing, I thought. But they hadn't.
When opened, the enormous container contained eight fragrant bunched plants, each in an actual plastic pot. The proper handfuls of soil at their roots were damp, the pots were wrapped in slightly damp newspaper then in plastic, and the whole box left my hall heavy with perfume.
But if the packing pleased me, the plants delighted me more. All were bushy and healthy, with 10 or 20 leaves, and the choice of varieties was, as we used to say in the playground when I was in Class 4, proper skill.
"Orange Fizz" is one of the most citrussy of geraniums, giving a totally Tango scent to the air. Also "excellent in cocktails", as Mark noted in a helpful email follow-up. Another citrus came in the form of "Pink capitatum", with leaves fragranced like lime, and which will eventually have pretty mauve-pink flowers.
The box also brought me "Lady Plymouth", of whom I am a big fan, and not just for her reet posh name: the fragrance is dubbed "rose mint", and the Lady has the added benefit of variegated leaves, with a little gold border to grey-green centres. Told you she was posh.
Finally, Mark included "Rose of Attar", the most vigorous grower in the box. This one has the perfume to beat all others, that rosy-bosy old-lady thing that Stella McCartney does so well.
Each geranium had such a good little set of roots that I've had to do little to get them established (unlike the Sweet Williams, which are still struggling to find a way in the world, only just beginning to put on new leaves despite arriving weeks before the Otter Farm plants). And off they go into the world. It's enough to make you buy a greenhouse.
Otter Farm's Scented Geranium collection of four select varieties is £10 from shop.otterfarm.co.uk
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