St. OlaSaint Ola's White
Evergreen Geranium


"To what shall
I liken the world?
Moonlight, reflected
In dewdrops,
Shaken from a crane's-bill."

-Dogen Zenji
(1200-1253)

   

Geranium x cantabrigiense 'St. Ola' is named for a burgh of Orkney, Scotland.

There was no actual saint by this name, but it is a corruption of the name of King Olaf of Norway, for whom a Scottish medieval church was dedicated when Olaf was killed 1033, the area having become a major residence of Norse Earls.

But the St. Ola megalith in Tingwall, Shetland, predates the arrival of Vikings, & one must wonder if the masculine name Olaf got truncated to the feminine Ola out of some fading memory of a mortal queen or tutelary goddess displaced by the coming of christianity.

This is a hybrid crane's-bill, crossing Geranium dalmaticum 'Album' with G. macrorrhizum 'Album.' It is widely touted as an improved version of G. x. cantabrigiense 'Biokovo,' purportedly more vigorous.

However, 'St Ola' presents little to no distinction between itself & 'Biokovo' is slight. If I were to hazard an occasional difference as the two clumps perform through the seasons, 'Biokovo's' white flowers age more quickly to salmon pink, while 'St Ola' remains longer a pure white, & even the stamins are colorless, unlike 'Biokovo' with pink stamens.

But fact is, both plants have a range of appearance (depending on amount of shade & moisture & age of blooms) so that any distinction between the two is illusory. The stamins of our 'St. Ola' tend to be just about as pink at least on the top section as is the case with 'Biokovo' & any insistance on a real difference can only disappoint. By my observation 'St. Ola' is not a case of a seriously "new" cultivar at all, but falls in that shifty vague area of highly subjective if not merely nonsensical "improvement" which is a slander of an established cultivar upon which no objective improvement or difference actually exists.

St. OlaAlan Bremner is the nominal hybridizer for 'St. Ola' & has produced many refined new geranium hybrids, despite that 'St Ola' itself appears only as a duplicate of an extant cultivar. Bremner has, without placing too great an emphasis on it, defined his improvement on 'Biokovo' not as "more vigorous" as the advertisers say, but merely as having whiter, flatter petals. And even that is not a reliable distinction, & any assertion that they are different from one another is at best a highly subjective call if not outright exaggeration or fib.

It is not likely that many who already have the earlier 'Biokovo' will find any real justification for adding 'St Ola' to one's collection of hardy geraniums, or visa-versa. But justified or not, we have both in our garden. Both show occasional flushes of pink in flat white petals, though some claim St. Ola ought to be whiter, there's just no difference between them in our gardens. Both are very hardy recommendable plants.

Watching ours develop & grow through recent years, I sometimes regard 'Biokovo' the prettier of the two, other days 'St Ola' seems to be in finer form, but they are far too similar to ascribe superiority to either one. They're the same, & I do if I think on it too long feel hornswoggled into having obtained 'St Ola' as allegedly different or improved. That they have an evergreen or semi-evergreen presence is a bonus, as the greater majority of our crane's-bills die back in winter.

It starts blooming before mid-May, white slowly aging to light pink. It can be aggressive at spreading, a small clump after a few years colonizing as much as four feet of space. It remains quite short, a good groundcover only six to twelve inches high, with dense lush little leaves. Its root if disrupted or the leaves if bruised may release an odor which some find pleasantly weedy, but others find it unpleasant; it exudes no odor if unmolested.

Said to tolerate dry shade, it in reality does poorly in such conditions, although it would not be bothered by merely occasional hardship. It prefers only a little protection in bright sun with moist well-draining soil.

   



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