Wrought iron balconies decked with glowing geraniums are evocative of France for me – and for many others, I suspect. So after such a grey and damp winter, it was nice to introduce a touch of summer by making our annual trip yesterday to buy our geraniums. Never mind the fact that we were back in winter clothes, having been in shorts on Wednesday afternoon.
I always wait until after mid-April before planting out my geraniums. Clear days equal cold and sometimes frosty nights. The last frost here has been as late as 22nd April. Since the autumns are getting warmer, I normally manage to keep my plants until mid-November. I don’t decommission them until the first sharp frost has blackened the leaves.
I have never been able to store geraniums over the winter for replanting in the spring. Wherever I put them, they get leggy and pale and covered in aphids. I am resigned to throwing them on the compost heap.
Normally, we buy our geraniums from a nursery in Villefranche-de-Rouergue. The plants plus the potting compost set us back about 80 euros. This year, I noticed that Leclerc supermarket had set up a temporary shop with a promotion of plants etc. We bought 18 trailing geraniums for troughs and 10 pelargoniums for larger pots, four sacks of soil and a new terracotta trough – 36 euros. No doubt the plants from the dedicated nursery are better quality and I feel a bit guilty but, well…
We don’t have a wrought iron balcony but we do have a rather nice covered loggia (bolet in local parlance) with a stone parapet. It’s crying out for troughs of scarlet geraniums and they look lovely against the pale stone.
The plants also attract insects. I love watching the hummingbird hawk moths hovering, their wings beating faster than the eye can see and their tongues unfurling to seek the nectar. The first time I saw these exotic moths was on holiday in Rocamadour more than 20 years ago. We were sipping aperitifs on the covered terrace of our hotel, which was decorated with troughs of geraniums. I was transfixed by the moths and that, for me, has remained an abiding image of France in summer.
Unfortunately, my pots also attract rather less welcome insects. By the end of the summer, some of the plants look a bit peaky and start to fail. The reason seems to be unpleasant grubs chewing on the roots. They are disgusting bags of fat, the larvae of a beetle, I suppose, but I’m unable to identify which one it is. I always put them out on the paths for the birds to pick up. Does anyone have any environmentally-friendly suggestions for eliminating them?
Since I wrote this, I’ve started to wonder since Steph below thought they might be stag beetle larvae and therefore not harmful to plants – in addition to being a protected species. Having done some further research I think they might be Rose Chafer (cetonia aurata) larvae. The adults are shiny green beetles, smaller than stag beetles. The larvae have quite distinctive behaviour and if placed on a flat surface they pull themselves along on their backs. I’ve just demonstrated this with a few that I pulled out of a trough of empty soil – they did just that. They aren’t harmful to plants so I need to rehome them. But it might well be that some of my other pots attract cockchafers, which are harmful and eat plant roots. Their larvae are very similar.
Planting the geraniums is one of our annual rituals here – like cutting and stacking the winter wood in late summer. Although today is chilly and breezy, I feel summer is only around the corner.
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