Gerberas are popular cut flowers, in the top 5 in Europe, and their bright flowers are just what a child would draw if asked to illustrate a flower. Daisy-like and in a wide range of colours, they are universally popular. They are usually called just gerberas, though their common names include Barberton daisy and Transvaal daisy, reflecting their South African origin. They were first illustrated in Europe in Curtis’ Botanical Magazine in 1889 and are named after Traugott Gerber, a German botanist. The plants we grow now are based on G. jamesonii but other species may be involved so they are more accurately G. x hybrida.
Gerberas are basically, leafy, stemless herbaceous plant that produce a succession of daisy-like ‘flowers’ in summer. They are not hardy and grow best in sun or part shade in well-drained soil.
Breeders have produced a huge range of varieties of different types. Breeding objectives have been for large, long-lasting flowers with contrasting centres as cut flowers and these are not usually available to home gardeners. They are propagated by tissue culture. Others have concentrated on seed-raised strains for pot culture. Most of these have large flowers and are useful as short-lived pot plants and can be used outside as patio plants. I have found that these can survive the winter outside in a sheltered spot but are very slow to get going the next season so (in my opinion) are not worth keeping a second season. As indoor pot plants they need bright light and very careful watering. They are very thirsty and wilt dramatically if dry. But overwatering leads to rot. If you get water in the centre of the plant the leaves get grey mould which will run through the plant in no time.
But they are usually inexpensive and I find it impossible not to buy a few when confronted with them because they are so cheerful.
Florist Holland BV The Dutch flower breeding company, specialising in all kinds of gerbera, developed Garvineas, the first reliably hardy gerberas and there are now dozens of cultivars. Their aim was to produce gerberas that would make reliable garden plants with continuous flowers, not just in flushes. They also aimed to produce plants that were more resistant to disease and pests. The flowers were already attractive to bees and butterflies.
The first Garvineas were introduced a decade or so again and they had pink or white flowers. I had some to trial and although they were quite vigorous and hardy the flowers were small and the outer florets not held horizontally. They just didn’t give me the gerbera hit I needed from a gerbera! I think that perhaps these early cultivars were introduced a bit too early, before the product was finished. In the subsequent years breeding has progressed and the range now includes plants with bigger and brighter flowers. They have thicker, neater foliage and the flowers are held well above the basal leaves.
In the garden, in Ireland and the UK, I still think there is a slight issue with hardiness or rather winter wet. Water in the crown is still the biggest issue and combined with cold it will damage the plants. They may recover eventually in spring but I would rather not see them taking months to build up a head of steam. So I have put my toe in the water and planted some in a cold greenhouse, where I can regulate the watering in winter, as a source of cut flowers. Although Garvineas are rather short, with a stated size of 45cmx45cm, this is tall enough for small bunches. So far I have cut at least three flowers a week from each plant.
If you are planting them in the garden I would suggest that you put them in patio pots rather than the border, so you can pamper them and take control of watering and feeding. Avoid very hot, dry spots (it may be tricky in this heatwave!) because gerberas are leafy plants and will wilt if water stressed. They also need deadheading to prevent the old flowers turning to fluffy seedheads.
In the border I think they might work well with smaller grasses for a mini-prairie landscape or with some dazzling heucheras for something less tasteful.
I have been asked why I did not ‘rate’ Garvineas. I thought long and hard about this before I posted originally and I think it is because they are not quite good garden plants in the UK and Ireland. Although they have been bred as such, I think they are much more suitable as plants for nurseries to grow and garden centres to sell. For some strange reason I just don’t think they quite work. But, for completeness sake, I will have a go, but it is packed with caveats!
(as a patio plant for one season)
(as a hardy perennial)
(if he lived in SE USA)
(If he thought Brexit was a great idea and that Boris and Donald were geniuses)