I need to stop before I start, so to speak.
I was going to start by outlining the origins of this dramatic geranium – a zonal pelargonium, that is – but straight away I find that no one agrees. Was it introduced in 1949, the 1950s, or 1969? Was is found in California or Connecticut? Was it chance seedling, or a color break on a red-flowered plant?
There are, however, some things that everyone agrees about: The color is not only startling, but unique; it was found in the garden of a Mr. Wren; and it’s a tall and lanky plant which is a little shy in its flowering. Except I find even that is only partially true as Helen Van Pelt Wilson, in her book The Joy of Geraniums, from 1980, describes it as “very free of bloom”!
When I grew it I certainly found it tall and reluctant to make side shoots and so the overall floral impact was less impressive than I expected; I’d pinch it out but it produced hardly any side shoots, just a few tall stems that eventually needed staking. But it also produced these heads of dramatic flowers.
But things are changing. Thompson & Morgan have had the plant in the laboratory where they’ve removed the virus diseases with which it was infected. Here’s what Michael Perry of T&M, told me “We have taken the original stock of 'Mr. Wren' and further developed it to be slightly more compact and more freely flowering. As part of this process, we have also ensured it is virus-free, a problem with the older stocks.” They call it ‘Mr. Wren Improved’.
So at least it won’t pass viruses to other geraniums. This, by the way, is what was done with the colored foliage varieties that we now see everywhere; virus infection had greatly weakened them. With the virus removed they grow well.
And that red-and-white coloring? There’s a layer of red cells in each flower, sandwiched between two layers of transparent white cells. But the red cells do not extend all the way to the edge – so the edge is white.
I look forward to trying this new improved version of ‘Mr. Wren’ (so far only available in Britain, I’m afraid). I’ll report back on whether it really is more bushy.
In the UK you can order Pelargonium ‘Mr. Wren Improved’ from Thompson & Morgan.
In North America you can order Pelargonium ‘Mr. Wren’ (not improved, but still spectacular) from Trio Nursery.