Gaskell House Blogs

Is Summer Coming?

11th June 2024
in blog, Garden

Summer must be coming soon to bring us sunshine. The garden certainly does not need any more rain. It is true that we have had glimpses of summer sun and that  the roses in the garden are blooming. The Scottish Briar and Dog Rose in the fern garden have been in bloom for a few weeks. The Dog Rose is more visible than when I wrote about these roses in 2021.

In anticipation of the summer warmth I have been introducing the pelargoniums to the outdoor air. Although they are not delicate plants, the cold can damage them and we lost a few over the last winter. This is not surprising as they are plants that originated in South Africa, first noted in John Tradescant’s garden in Lambeth from 1632 and in King William and Queen Mary’s garden in 1690. They were given their name pelargonium in 1732 though geranium is the name most often used for the red, pink and white plant we typically think of in municipal bedding schemes.

As with many garden plants, it was the activities of nineteenth century nurseries that produced the range of varieties now available. A written history of these developments, The Passion for Pelargoniums by Anne Wilkinson, has been my invaluable guide. It directed me to plants that were available to gardeners during Elizabeth Gaskell’s lifetime and the lifetimes of William and their daughters. I have concentrated on the Unique variety.

I have also chosen plants whose name can be linked to Elizabeth Gaskell. We have, for example, a variety named Miss Burdett-Coutts, who was a wealthy philanthropist whom Elizabeth Gaskell contacted to help a young woman emigrate to Australia. I hope also to have Crystal Palace Gem. This year we have plants of Mrs Pollock that has been constantly available to gardeners since its introduction in the 1860s. There might also be some scented leaf varieties and one with leaves like velvet, Pelargonium Tormentosum.

Geraniums do make an appearance in at least one novel. They appear in Chapter 2 of Mary Barton, in a description of the Bartons’ home when times were better ‘Two geraniums, unpruned and leafy, which stood on the sill, formed a further defence from out-door pryers.’ This nineteenth century painting shows something similar.

So, as is the case of many of the plants in the garden, we have varieties of pelargoniums that would have been available to Elizabeth Gaskell, and varieties that make reference to her writings and her life. A flowering addition to the information in the house.

Chris Tucker Garden Volunteer

We've got a certainly is a beauty...I must try and make the house give as much pleasure to others as I can.’

Elizabeth Gaskell, in a letter to her friend Eliza Fox in 1850.