Wednesday Weed – Wargrave Pink (Hardy Geranium)

Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..

Geranium x oxonianum

Dear Readers, it is interesting to see a plant that is actually in the process of escaping the garden and becoming ‘wild’. This little pink flower, a variety of hardy geranium known as Wargrave Pink (Geranium x oxonianum), is all over the entrance to Cherry Tree Wood, and can be found quite happily growing among the commoner ‘weeds’ such as dock and annual mercury. It has largely finished flowering but fortunately I got a few photos after a rain storm a few weeks ago. It seems to thrive in the dry, semi-shaded areas at the feet of the hornbeams and oaks, much as the blue hardy geraniums are happy at the feet of my whitebeam tree.

Like Montbretia, Geranium x oxonianum is a hybrid of two species: Geranium endressi, or Endre’s  Cranesbill….

By Meneerke bloem - Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7105945

Geranium endressii (Endre’s Cranesbill) Photo One (credit below)

and Geranium versicolour (Pencilled Cranesbill)

Geranium versicolor (Pencilled cranesbill) (Photo Two, credit below0

If you look at the picture below, you can see both the pink colour and the faint veining of the plant’s ‘parents’.Apparently, the plant was ‘found’ in the greenhouses of Waterer, Sons and Crisp in 1930, which implies that it came about accidentally. Waterer, Sons and Crisp was a company of nurserymen which was formed in 1676. In 1914 the company got into financial difficulties (probably not unrelated to the war, and the call-up of many of the staff), and so it merged with the Wargrave Plant Farm in Buckinghamshire, which is probably the reason for name ‘Wargrave Pink’. The nursery still continues today, specialising in azaleas and rhododendrons.

The name ‘Geranium’ comes from the Greek word for crane, geranos, and this also gives us the English name ‘cranesbill’. Both titles come from the appearance of the fruit capsule of some species, such as the bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum) seen below. The fruit capsule springs open and the five seeds are thrown some considerable distance.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=256121

Seedhead of Geranium sanguineum (Photo Three, see credit below)

Incidentally, although those bright red flowers that adorn the window boxes of Austrian chalets are also known as geraniums, they are more correctly pelargoniums (although they are members of the same family as ‘our’ plant). Pelargonium flowers have a different structure – while geraniums have five equal petals, pelargoniums have two upper petals and three lower petals that  are different.

Rose Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) – Public Domain

Hardy geraniums seem like very demure little plants to me, unlikely to inspire passion. And yet, in my search for interesting links to the plant, what do I come across but the poem ‘The Geranium’ by  Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It tells of dalliance in a woodland where geraniums bloom (species unspecified, but if you read the poem you will see that botanical accuracy is the last thing on the poet’s mind). Be warned that it is very explicit, so please don’t read on if you’re likely to be offended (though I also found it very funny). I can guarantee that you will never have read a flower poem quite like it. Here it is.

So, now that you’ve recovered, let me tell you a little about Mr Sheridan.

Portrait of a Gentleman, Half-Length, in a Brown and White Stock, a Red Curtain Behind, (oil on canvas) by Hoppner, John (1758-1810);. The sitter has traditionally been identified as Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816).); Photo © Christie’s Images; English, out of copyright

Sheridan was born in Ireland in 1751, and made his name as a playwright – his plays include ‘The Rivals’ and ‘School for Scandal’, both comedies of manners. ‘The Rivals’ includes the character of Mrs Malaprop, a woman forever using the wrong words in her attempts to sound more intellectual than she actually is, and a mainstay of comedy ever since. I have a distinct memory of a very similar character invented by the estimable Les Dawson.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/10627999/Les-Dawson-wrote-secret-romantic-novel-under-name-Maria-Brett-Cooper.html

Les Dawson as Ada Shufflebottom. Oh, how we laughed when I was a child….(Photo Four – credit below)

Anyway, back to Sheridan. His private life was eventful. In 1772 he fought two duels with the same man, Captain Thomas Matthews, who had written an article defaming the  character of his wife-to-be. The first duel was bloodless and Matthews was forced to beg for his life and sign a retraction. However, Matthews then challenged Sheridan to a second duel. Sheridan wasn’t obliged to agree but, well, his honour was now in question.  In this second duel, both parties were injured, Sheridan seriously – he ended it with a sword sticking out of his breastbone, and his face beaten to a pulp. Matthews (who I think we can agree is the villain of the piece) fled in a carriage. Sheridan was not expected to survive, but somehow pulled through,

No sooner was Sheridan recovered than he married the lady in question, Elizabeth Ann Linley. Sheridan had no money of his own, and so they lived on the dowry in some style, entertaining their fashionable friends and generally making something of a splash. Mrs Sheridan was painted by Gainsborough, no less, some ten years after the marriage.

 

Mrs Richard Brinsley Sheridan (Thomas Gainsborough (1782) (Public Domain)

In 1778 Sheridan bought out David Garrick’s share of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. In 1809 the theatre burned down. On being encountered in the street watching the fire with a glass of wine in his hand, Sheridan is reported to have said ‘A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine at his own fireside’

Sheridan also had a long career as a Whig politician. He sympathised with the French and American revolutionaries, and was said by William Pitt and Edmund Burke to have made ‘the greatest speech ever made, ancient or modern’ when he called for the impeachment of the Governor of India, Warren Hastings, for corruption. Clearly his eloquence in persuading ‘the lovely Susan’ in ‘The Geranium’ could be put to many uses.

Domestic bliss was elusive, however: Elizabeth had a son with Sheridan, and a daughter with her lover, Lord Fitzgerald. Elizabeth died soon after the birth of her second child, and Sheridan continued to care for both children. The child herself died, aged eighteen months in 1793. Sheridan married again, but died in 1815, heavily in debt. He is buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. The Prince of Wales himself is said to have lamented ‘Poor Sherry!’ on hearing of his death.

So, what is the relationship between the witty Sheridan of ‘School for Scandal’, a man who was said to have never been coarse in his speech, and the author of’ The Geranium’? The poem was never published in his lifetime, but Sheridan certainly had a reputation as a man who could scarcely be alone in a room with a woman without trying to ‘seduce’ her (and I wonder exactly what ‘seducing’ involved in the 18th Century, especially if the woman was a servant and the man was a Member of Parliament). He seems to have been a lustful, rambunctious man, determined to drain life’s wine to the lees.

Incidentally a line from the poem, ‘All my body glows with flame’ turns up in a Bob Dylan song, the theme to a film called ‘Tell Ol’ Bill‘. Rather than a song of desire fulfilled, it’s a song of desolate loneliness and despair.

I know which one I prefer.

Photo Credits

Photo One (Endre’s Cranesbill) – By Meneerke bloem – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7105945

Photo Two (Pencilled Cranesbill) – By Meneerke bloem – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7105945

Photo Three (Cranesbill Seedhead) – CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=256121

Photo Four (Les Dawson) – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/10627999/Les-Dawson-wrote-secret-romantic-novel-under-name-Maria-Brett-Cooper.html

 

8 thoughts on “Wednesday Weed – Wargrave Pink (Hardy Geranium)

  1. Sarah Ann Bronkhorst

    Susan today would be so much more savvy and so we don’t get cheerfully sexy poems like this to delight us. This one’s made me laugh aloud.

    Reply
  2. Fran and Bobby Freelove

    You certainly evoked memories for us with your post on Wargrave Pink, our late father’s garden was full of it, he loved it. And yes, the poem amused us too 😀

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Like all the hardy geraniums, it’s a very handy plant to have about – my garden is full of ‘Rozanne’ this year (the purple-blue one with a white centre), and it grows where everything else shrivels up and dies. Plus the bees love it!

      Reply
  3. gertloveday

    Lovely post. I’m a great fan of geraniums and their relatives the pelargoniums. Such a variety of dappled and scented leaves. You can make an excellent chocolate cake with a leaf of the peppermint one in the bottom of the tin

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I love scented-leaf pelargoniums, there are so many ways to used them – what a great idea with the chocolate cake! I love the delicate flowers too….

      Reply

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