• The transition of seasons into spring welcomes the opportunity for a garden in full bloom. Elizabeth Jones shares with us the most beautiful flowers to plant this month to add a vibrant pop of colour to your outdoor space.
  • Geraniums
  • Geraniums have long been popular annuals in Bermuda, loved for the vibrant colours of their flowers and the fragrance of their leaves depending on their variety. When French botanist Francis Andre Michaux arrived in Bermuda in 1806 as a prisoner of war off a Royal Navy ship, he noticed “geranium roseum and zonale” in St. George’s gardens. Susette Harriet Lloyd also noticed them when she visited in 1829 and described them forming on the island “entire hedges eight or ten feet high.” These species are similar to the ones commonly for sale in our plant nurseries. However, strictly speaking they are not geraniums, or cranesbill, at all. Rather, they are pelargoniums, flowers which originated in South Africa.

According to 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells, Jan Commelin, director of the botanical garden in Amsterdam during the seventeenth century, was responsible for dubbing them geraniums. In 1772 Scottish botanist and gardener Francis Masson, Kew Gardens’s first plant hunter, went to South Africa aboard HMS Resolution with James Cook, and sent hundreds of these “new” plants to England where they became very popular. Both Masson and Sir Joseph Banks, director of Kew, continued to call them geraniums. But by 1787, self-taught French botanist Charles Louis L’Héritier de Brutelle divided the Geraniaceae family into three genuses: cranesbill geraniums, erodium rock plants, and pelargonium geraniums, the latter being the ones we love to plant in our borders, pots, hanging baskets and window boxes. Zonal pelargoniums do well in Bermuda because they like alkaline soil, full sun and dry conditions.

Growing Tips

  • Pelargoniums can be grown by cuttings.
  • Plants bloom best in pots when rootbound.
  • They don’t like too much moisture or fertiliser.
  • Pest Control Tips
  • Pelargoniums are subject to geranium budworms.
  • Plant in sterile soil.
  • If possible, remove by hand small larvae resembling caterpillars.
  • Deadhead and prune infested buds.
  • Treat leaves with Bacillus thuringiensis (BT), a natural insecticide.

Did you know?

  • The word “geranium” is derived from the word geranus, meaning crane. It was coined by the ancient Greek botanist and doctor Dioscorides, who saw a similarity between the shape of the fruit or pod and that of a crane’s beak.
  • “Pelargonium” is derived from the Greek word pelargos meaning “stork.” The fruit resembles a stork’s beak.
  • Trumpet Vine
  • Commonly called trumpet vine after its trumpet-shaped flowers, this showy plant, brought to France from China during the reign of Louis XIV, was once named after a French abbot. Botanist Joseph de Tournefort was so grateful to the Sun King’s librarian, Abbé Jean Paul Bignon, for successfully nominating him to the Royal Academy of Science, he classified the plant after him: Bignonia radicans. Later, in the nineteenth century, it was classified as a Campsis radicans though it still has the family name of bignoniaceae. In the US it now has other common names, such as cow itch vine, because its pods and seeds can cause rashes and hives, and hummingbird vine because it attracts those beautiful birds. (In Bermuda we do occasionally have visiting hummingbirds.)

Trumpet Vine is quite common in Bermuda because it’s easy to grow (propagated by cuttings) and is showily exotic. With its glossy green leaves and apricot or reddish orange flowers blooming in spring and summer, it’s great for transforming a wall or trellis into a show piece. It can grow up to 15 feet or more. After it’s planted, it needs little attention to promote growth, requiring no fertilizer and only normal rainfall. It is not subject to pests or plant disease.

However, trumpet vine can easily become uncontrolled since it self-seeds and spreads through underground runners. The seeds are similar to those of milkweed since they are attached to white fluff which, with the aid of wind, transports them to different locations. Trumpet vine can be very difficult to eradicate, so paying attention to maintenance is very important.

Growing and Maintenance Tips

  • Plant by placing cutting in well-drained soil against a strong support such as a trellis, wall.
  • Plant well away from building foundations or from trees the vine might smother.
  • If you want to cover an outbuilding, hang wire across the surface. It will act as a support and make pruning easier.
  • Wearing gloves, remove seed pods and unwanted shoots.
  • Aggressively prune in spring and fall.
  • Did you know?
  • The word “campsis” comes from the Greek word kampe, which means “bent.”
  • Spring Birds
  • Although it’s true the key season for birdwatching is autumn, spring can be very rewarding. In February the longtails come back from their winter exile. Spring is also the time when migrant birds travelling north from the Americas may visit the island while on their way. Look out for scarlet tanagers, blue and rose-breasted grosbeaks, as well as indigo buntings, all of which are in breeding, and therefore brightly coloured, plumage.

Meanwhile our local breeding birds begin their courtship and nesting season and become far more visible in our gardens where, according to their tastes, they may feed on berries, insects or caterpillars and worms. Eastern bluebirds can be seen swooping from trees and fence posts to feed on the ground. March (until as late as August) is the time to start checking bluebird nesting boxes for sparrow invasion and for the bluebirds’ pale blue eggs. Northern cardinals or redbirds begin courtship songs round Christmas time, the males’ brilliant red plumage adding to the festive season, although they begin breeding in April.

The white-eyed vireo, dubbed “chick-of-the-village” after its call, also starts nesting in April as do the European goldfinch and the grey catbird, whose eggs are a bright green-blue. All three have their own distinctive songs, adding to the pleasure of being in the garden.

  • Tip
  • Sunflower seeds will attract redbirds to your yard.