A Climbing Geranium

A Climbing Geranium

By Seán A. O’Hara

It is now over ten years ago now that I photographed a gorgeous plant combination in Mark Delepine’s garden during one of his Coffee in the Garden events. I was determined to capture a few of the other garden visitors into a shot – I have a thing against garden photographs without people. I could not believe my luck when a woman’s dress almost exactly matched the color of a Pelargonium flower gracing the arbor supporting a ‘Sally Holmes’ rose in full bloom.

Photo by Seán O’Hara – Pelargonium ‘Platinum’ at right and top

When Mark was asked how he got this geranium to “climb”, he confessed that the plant did it quite on its own. He thought the flower color would go well with ‘Sally Holmes’ which is why he planted it at the base of the arbor. Sometime later, he was surprised to find that a few shoots had gotten away from him, threading their way up through the rose stems!

This particular Pelargonium is fairly common in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I had always known it as P. × hortorum ‘Platinum’. When I would refer to it under this name, more than once I would be told by a horticultural acquaintance, “No, that is the cultivar ‘Frank Healdly'”. Not being a geranium expert, I generally didn’t quibble, but I filed it away in my mind as something to follow up later.

This day, the same challenge was issued by two of the gardeners at Mark’s party where I took the featured photograph. Researching such stuff is something I find enjoyable, so that was all I needed to really dig in and find out more. Indeed, the Internet is full of photos of this plant labeled as ‘Frank Headley’, but the Internet isn’t always right. Many of the references I found for the identity of ‘Platinum’ were European, so I began to wonder if this might have arisen originally overseas. Seeing this hybrid attributed to ‘Heidgen’ seemed to suggest perhaps that it was German.

Not finding anything more about a plant breeder named Heidgen, I set my quest aside for a bit. I was researching a different topic when, by chance, I found a reference to Chuck Heidgen of Shady Hill Gardens of Elburn, Illinois! Looking at their website – http://www.shadyhill.com – I found that they supplied geraniums to the trade! And they listed ‘Platinum’ among their offerings!!

My inquiry to Shady Hill about Pelargonium ‘Platinum’ yielded the following response:

Good morning.

Yes, the geranium ‘Platinum’ is from Shady Hill and was introduced by dad, Chuck Heidgen. I am not certain of the year, but my thought is that is would have been sometime in the ’80s. We still grow it now and if my memory serves me, it was a sport of another Fancy Leaf variety called ‘Frank Headley’. ‘Platinum’ is much larger and rangier growing than Frank Headley and has almost silvery grey leaves with a cream-colored edge. It is a very prolific bloomer and has corally salmon colored flowers.

I hope that helps.
Joe Heidgen
Home-grown plants since 1974

Well, so now I guess the confusion between ‘Platinum’ and ‘Frank Headley’ make some sense. I also find it interesting that ‘Platinum’ is the more vigorous plant – unusual for a variegated cultivar.

Because of its ease of growth and a ready amount of cutting material, ‘Platinum’ continues to show up in gardens around the Bay Area. I think it’s unusual, very “retro” colors fit well with the palettes favored by the younger generation of gardeners. I have met many who are quite amused to be growing these plants, a familiar indoor pot-plant for new transplants from cold-winter climates, outdoors year ’round!

Photo by Mark Delepine

While it does not, in fact, climb like a vine, this and other vigorous and rangy geraniums can become “scramblers” like climbing roses. I wonder if there are other Pelargonium cultivars that might exhibit this character if allowed to grow into the supporting structure of another plant or arbor?