The National Garden Bureau, a non-profit organization made up of people, corporations or firms who are in the business of plants for home gardeners, likes to select a special group of flowers and vegetables to showcase each year.
What is nice about the NGB's selections is they aren't limited to one particular species of plants, but can encompass an entire family. Generally called ''Year Of The ...,'' the bureau traditionally selects one flower and one vegetable as the stand-out for the season.
Next season, the NGB has not only chosen a flower and a vegetable to showcase, but added a perennial as well. I'm happy to announce that 2012 is the year of Geranium, Heuchera and Herbs.
Heuchera, better known as Coral Bells, is a perennial, but has been short-lived in my garden. Even so, I love it so much I can't help fall for the newest hybrids, especially those with the most fanciful leaves making the insignificant flowers hardly noticeable.
The vegetable choice, herbs, is such a wide family of plants, it would be impossible to list. And not only are hundreds of herbs grown for culinary use, there are equally as many grown for other reasons, too, like medicinal, ornamental and decorative.
True geranium is a perennial too, but the plant we commonly call geranium isn't a geranium at all. It is a tender perennial that we treat as annuals in our zone 5 gardens with the real name of pelargonium. But since we know them as geraniums, the NGB has decided to recognize them all, and that's just fine. Why not make things easy?
The National Garden Bureau explains in their factsheet that in the 1700s, when the naming of plants became popular after Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus developed his method of categorizing, plants' names were chosen based on their fruit or seedpods. For this reason, geraniums were lumped together. But another botanist, L'Heritier, noted that differences in the plant were so distinct that they deserved a different genus. Just as they were then, today plant names are constantly evolving and changing, with some botanists accepting the changes and others not, creating even more confusion.
My advice is to not be technical when describing plants and not to worry if someone uses only botanical names and someone else uses only common names, while yet another mixes the two together. (I tend to fall in the third category and there are times even I don't know what is going to pop out of my mouth when asked to identify a plant).
Rather than split up the two species, which by the way, are from the same family of plants, Geraniacceae, most growers differentiate between the two by calling them simply, ''geraniums'' and ''hardy geraniums.'' Sounds good to me.
According to the NGB, the first geraniums were discovered in South Africa. Once one species was discovered, several more discoveries followed and the plant became popular in Europe. Thomas Jefferson had the plant shipped from France to Philadelphia and it wasn't long before their popularity spread in this country as well.
Once they began to catch on, horticulturalists continued breeding and the numbers of new varieties exploded. While most geraniums were propagated from cuttings, growers are more and more turning to seeds as the chosen method of starting new plants.
The NGB lists four basic types of geraniums. These include Common or Zonal Geraniums, which are the classic bedding plant we see filling up the garden centers in spring; Scented-Leaf Geraniums, which are also listed as herbs in some publications; Ivy-Leaf Geraniums, which are plants with vining or trailing habits most often seen in container plantings; and Regal and Angel Geraniums, which are the Martha Washington types, a little more difficult to grow and a bit temperamental for my tastes.
For more information about the National Garden Bureau and its ''Year of The'' choices, visit their website at ngb.org.