Talkback: Geranium 'Bill Wallis'

One of the few flowers growing in my yard. 4 different clumps of it some as big as a car bonnet. Only knew it as Purple Geranium. Got some from my mom and more from a woman i used do a spot of gardening for. Great plant.


  • waterbuttswaterbutts Posts: 1,221

    I think it comes into the category of "be careful what you wish for" plants. Like oriental poppies and forgetmenots.

    Still, I suppose if you have a spot where nothing else will grow, Bill Wallis is the man to fill it.

    Btw, are you from north America or do you really grow it in a yard? It would be tough enough I suppose.

  • No expertNo expert Posts: 415

    Sorry for the Americanism, Didn't mean to say that really because it is growing in my lawn. Watching too much US tv.

  • Bill Wallis was my father-in-law. He was a passionate gardener and plantsman, who lived for most of his life in the village of Buckden in Cambridgeshire.

    Bill was born in 1919, and his love of gardening was inspired and encouraged by his mother. After graduating from Reading University he joined the Ministry of Agriculture as a scientific officer, initially in Nottingham, then at Rosewarne in Cornwall. In the late 1960's he returned to live in Buckden when transferred to the MAFF offices in Cambridge where he was a senior horticultural advisor.

    He took over his mother's garden, which extends to about 3/4 acre and quickly established himself as a leading light of both the Buckden Gardener's Association and the Buckden Winemakers, and for many years hosted a rather boozy annual barbecue for the winemakers in his garden.

    After his retirement in 1979, Bill established a small horticultural nursery in the garden. The "Useful Plant Co." specialised in rare and unusual hardy perennials, and whilst he never made a fortune (not that that was ever his intention) it gave him an opportunity to share his love of plants with customers and other growers from far and wide.

    He was also an active member of the Hardy Plant society, and for many years curated part of the Chrysanthemum Rubellum national collection. Hardy Geraniums were always amongst his favourite plants and the variety "Bill Wallis" was named for him by a nurseryman friend when the plant was first shown at Chelsea.

    Sadly Bill passed away in 1991 at the age of 72, but his memory lives on. Always generous with both his time and his plants - many of the village gardens are filled with his plants and his ideas. The rose walk he planted in the local churchyard, just opposite his house, is looking splendid at the moment; and later in the year we will enjoy the underplanting of Autumn Crocus.

    Shortly before Bill's death the Channel 4 Garden Club programme had arranged to feature his garden. The family decided it should go ahead as a tribute to Bill, and the plant that Roy Lancaster chose open the programme with was of course Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallis'

    Bill's garden has seen many changes over the years, but it is still very much his, and will continue to be so for many years to come as my wife and myself now live in the old family house and tend the garden in which "Bill Wallis" continues to flourish.
  • The entry in my Hardy Geranium book says:

    G. pyrenaicum 'Bill Wallis.' Dark bluish purple. Very pretty, but is capable of spreading like a weed. The name is often misspelled 'Bill Wallace.'

    I believe it spreads by scattering an enormous amount of seed, which germinate and grow quickly  steamrollering other plants in the garden. Therefore have to be careful where you plant it if you allow it into your garden.

  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 20,219

    lovely story Ian. Thanks for sharing it. I love to hear how plants come by their names.

  • BiljeBilje Posts: 410

    What a smashing post. I was given this plant in return for some others I had passed on. I love it, it frothed about with its lititle purple blue flowers in a cool corner. It has self seeded a little but no way is it a problem for me. I've never seen it any where in the NE. Thanks Ian for posting.

  • I'm a big fan of Bill Wallis - One of my first ever plants too. Not 'invasive' for me, but does seed about enough to warrant hoiking one out here & there - Not to compost, but to replant in 'difficult' places, where most other plants either wouldn't or would be overcome by weeds.

    Very useful & lovely plant.
  • DorsetUKDorsetUK Posts: 441

    Lovely to know the origins and also to know the traditions of this geranium still follow on, thank you

  • Bill Wallis was my gardening friend and mentor, offering to take me on as an apprentice at the nursery garden in Buckden to teach me propagation - which he did while lovely Beryl looked after us.  We enjoyed working together so much we became the Useful Plant Company until Bill's death.  He was a huge influence and was so generous with his knowledge - and we had enormous fun.  Bill grew the kind of beautiful plants it was hard to find in those days and he had already found Geranium Bill Wallis in a neighbour's garden as a chance seedling. It was an enormously  popular plant with our customers.  It is a modest but very floriferous version of its wildling parents, self contained and neat in habit with larger, deeper coloured flowers and no tendency to fling itself about.  Bill liked flowers that derived from our native wild flowers and was very interested in conservation as well and gardening.  G. Bill Wallis does self seed but is never a nuisance as some inferior version sold by nurseries can be.  You can usually spot an inferior version by the larger, red tinged centre to the plant, longer sprawling stems with quite small flowers.  I still have the original but only by getting some new plants from our friend and fellow nurseryman Joe Sharman, who has original seedlings obtained from the Useful Plant Compnay at his Monksilver Nursery.

    I was privileged to know Bill, he was an inspiration and true friend and I am pleased to know the garden is still in the family.  I send my best wishes.  I garden in Norfolk now and am a member of the RHS's Herbaceous Committee. Thank you Bill and Beryl.


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