There is simply nothing as dependable as a hardy geranium! We’re talking here of the rugged, low-growing, outdoor types rather than their glamorous cousins, the pot plant pelargoniums.
Now is the perfect time to plant them. Or better still, put a quick spade through your neighbour’s and get a division for your own garden! You would have thought that this was a fairly safe subject for the three of us to let you know our favourite varieties, plus a few tips on growing them. But as usual it’s not long until the disagreements bubble up……….
Me first, and I reckon hardy geraniums (or ‘cranesbills’ as they are known – their seed pods resemble the cranes’ beaks) are great little garden plants. Adaptable, with pretty leaves, colourful blooms, and often a long flowering season – I adore them. With hundreds of different species and endless cultivars to choose from, it’s hard to whittle down my favourites but here goes:
Geranium ‘Rozanne’ – hard to have a discussion about hardy geraniums without mentioning the ‘Plant of the Century’ – blue-mauve flowers for months, and stunning when weaving through other plants – it’s rightly our feature picture above.
G. ‘Brookside’ is similar, and it’s a real corker!
Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ – a rather furry-leaved low-growing variety for shady spots with small pink flowers and apple/menthol-scented foliage. There’s a covetable one called ‘Spessart’s White’.
Geranium pratense – the meadow cranesbills are taller and more airy. And, Caroline, they can stand up to -45 degrees, so you should be okay with them in the Highlands! G. pratense ‘Southease Celestial‘ is a very beautiful but rare variety – Louise Sims has extolled its virtues in earlier piece – link is at the bottom. (It’s in her lovely book as well – A Plant for Each Week of the Year – find it in our online shop).
I find the ones with double flowers don’t hang for more than two or three years, but the excellent Hardy Geranium Nursery says one of their best sellers is a pretty double-flowered white one in its catalogue called ‘Laura’ – I wonder if they realise how cold-hearted their namesake can be at times?
Gawd – did you notice that barbed little comment at the end there? It all started when I announced that I’d dug up and replaced all the geraniums from my front border for my latest horticultural crush, Benton Irises. I think Elaine’s comment was ‘fancy giving up a summer of flowers for two weeks of glory then 50 weeks of nothing’. But honestly no geraniums were harmed in the process, and all were successfully re-homed into supporting roles elsewhere in the garden.
I generally consider geraniums to be fillers rather than front-of-house stars. (Ooh, and I may have accidentally used the word ‘monotonous’ to describe their flowering style – no wonder the old girl blew a fuse…..)
But I do really admire geraniums, and am drawn to those who have adapted to fill otherwise awkward niches in the garden. My all-time favourite is the shade-loving Geranium phaeum, the mourning widow, or dusky cranesbill, rather sombre names for this gentle woodlander. It spreads into every shady nook and cranny, and throws up its subdued but classy deep purple flowers on tall stems in the spring. The bees go bonkers for them.
I grow the cultivar ‘Samobor’ which has striking markings on the leaves, whilst ‘Lily Lovell‘ has paler mauve flowers which can show up better than the very dark ones.
My second best geranium is another outlier (and is actually only hardy in the mildest of gardens, so there’ll be more grief from the sisterhood) but I love the drama of Geranium maderense. It takes a couple of years of cosseting to bring on its amazingly architectural frame, but it’s all worth it when it erupts into a massive dome of flowers that will literally stop you in your tracks.
If you can’t cope with cultural demands of G.maderense you could try the other Maderian geranium, G.palmatum, which is the same idea, but smaller and hardier. This is another geranium that Louise has previously written about in her column.
Tricky – I have a foot in both camps here. I find hardy geraniums very like school prefects – dependable, well-behaved and resilient (important this, currently minus 5 here in Scotland).
In fact some 30 years ago, back when my sisters still hoped I might become a competent gardener (still waiting), Elaine gifted me rooted chunks of ‘Wargrave Pink’; ‘Johnson’s Blue’ and ‘Kashmir White’. This is how good geraniums are – they’re all still alive. So far so GOOD.
They waken early in the year, grow into gentle mounds of foliage with smallish flowers and are generally nice to all their neighbours. You can depend on them to be good when tackling the death wishes of all your other plants.
BUT if, like me (and clearly Laura), you find them a tiny bit boring, the good news is that there are 700 varieties to choose from (we’ve put a link to the Hardy Geranium Nursery’s website at the end for you to have a browse through)
Look at my madcap addition G.psilostemon – tall, rangy and bright pink… she totally outshines her well-behaved stablemates – it’s been tantamount to inviting Lady Gaga to the synod.
So folks, it’s good news all the way. There’s a hardy geranium out there for everyone and you can generally plan on it being a long-term relationship!
A couple of cultivation notes:
- Choose hardy geraniums according to your requirements – some are tall, some are short, some need all the sun they can get, others thrive in shade, etc.
- Cut back the early-blooming ones to the ground after flowering, feed and water them , and you’ll get a mound of new leaves and a few more flowers later on.
- Watch out for the invasive ones – the native G. robertianum – ‘Herb Robert’ is commonly described as ‘pernicious’! G. nodosum is another that has a dodgy reputation.
We’d love to hear about your favourite hardy geraniums – do drop us a line!
Do have a browse through the choice of 90 different varieties of cranesbill at the Hardy Geranium Nursery and note there’s a free gift with orders of over £40 until 3 April 😀. And don’t forget you’ll find great garden tools and gifts at very keen price points in our Little Shop of Garden Delights
Louise has a shrub that’s having it’s moment in the limelight now as her Plant of the Month, click on the box below to find out what it is.
NB Louise has published a beautifully produced book of her plant profiles – A Plant for Each Week of the Year. It costs £9.99 and is for sale in our online shop here.
Another NB There’s still time to enter the Thompson & Morgan competition for a collection of patio plants – it ends on April 10. Click on the form to follow us on one of our platforms, and your entry is IN!
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