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Hardy Geraniums Article


Hardy Geraniums

Hardy geraniums, commonly known as "cranesbills", are a very versatile and easy to grow group of plants. They are mainly perennial plants and look good grouped with other perennials and shrubs.

As the colours range from white to light pink through to dark purple, they are easy to accommodate in virtually any garden colour scheme. They can also look good in almost any style of gardening. They are superb when planted with roses, especially shrub roses, for a cottage garden effect. They are also good in a naturalistic planting with grasses and perennials. They can even quite happily fit into a stark, modern urban garden provided the right varieties (e.g. Geranium maderense) are used. They give good value for money, with many flowering from late spring right through to autumn. In addition they have attractive foliage, all varieties generally having five distinct lobes, these being further deeply divided on some species. As a result, the plant looks good even before the flowers appear. Some will happily self seed in the garden while others will spread by means of underground rhizomes and thus provide good ground cover to help suppress weeds. In short, no garden should be without them.


Cultivation

Hardy geraniums are generally not fussy about growing conditions. With regard to aspect, they will tolerate both full sun or part shade, and some thrive in dry conditions. They don't seem particularly fussy about soil type and will grow in either acid or alkaline soil. The one situation that they will not do well in is a water-logged soil. Some however prefer slightly damp conditions, so unless you are gardening in a permanently boggy area you should find some to suit your garden.

 


Propagation

Many of the clump forming geraniums can be divided in spring or autumn in a similar way to other perennials. It is also worth dividing established clumps of those that spread by underground runners or rhizomes to keep the vitality of the plant. This can be done every three or four years. If replanting in the same area, enrich the soil with home made compost and a sprinkling of blood fish and bone powder.



Care

Most geraniums need little care. Those that have a distinct single flowering season (e.g. Geranium phaeum 'Mourning Widow' that flowers in early spring or Geranium Johnson's Blue that flowers in late spring) can be cut to the ground immediately after flowering. Always water the plant well after doing this. This will encourage the plant to send up new leaves that are fresher and more pleasing to look at than the older foliage. It may also result in a second, though reduced, flush of flowers in late summer.


Four of my own particular favourites are as follows :

Geranium wallichianum 'Buxton's Variety' : The late Graham Stuart Thomas described this geranium as "a pearl beyond price". Unusually for a geranium this variety is tap-rooted. It throws out trailing leafy stems in late spring and early summer. The leaves are a mottled green with light brown and cream accents. It comes into its full glory in late summer and autumn. Sky blue saucer shaped flowers with a distinct white centre are borne on the trailing stems. The petals have the appearance of crumpled paper that someone has attempted to smooth out. It will go on flowering right through to the first frosts and is at home scrambling around, between, over and under other perennials. A real star plant.

Geranium oxonianum 'Claridge Druce'
: A rather coarse looking plant with large grey-green leaves and pink flowers with deeper red veins. This is excellent for growing amongst shrubs as it will wend its way up through the shrubs for support. It flowers practically all summer long but can begin to look a little shabby come autumn. It self seeds and so creates good ground cover. If you find it self seeds excessively you can pot up the seedlings in spring to give to friends. If grown as a single specimen amongst other perennials it will most likely need support. This can be easily provided with twigs - dried out spring prunings from Buddleja are ideal.


Geranium 'Ann Folkard''
: A cross between geranium procurens and geranium psilostemon, this geranium will stop you in your tracks. It has golden green foliage carried on long leafy flowering stems arising from a central mound of foliage. The one in my garden easily covers an area five feet by three feet. It has deep magenta flowers with black veins and a black centre. These flowers appear in a deep indigo colour at the start if the plant is slightly shaded. It will flower non stop from mid June until October.


Geranium maderense :
This originates from Madeira and the Canary Islands and is probably the largest of all geraniums. The plant is largely evergreen, the fresh apple-green or emerald green of the new leaves providing a shot of colour in winter as they emerge. It prefers a well drained soil in full sun. The plant seems to literally heave itself out of the ground with the result that I have to regularly top up a collar of grit around the main stem. From June to August the magenta pink flowers are borne above the foliage on tall candelabra-like inflorescences. Although not hardy everywhere, it seems to enjoy the micro climate of the Belfast garden. Plants are not terribly long lived. This year my established plants of six years seemed to fade away, although this may have been due to a mixture of an excessively damp autumn and two days in January with a frost that did not lift . Fortunately, this plant is a prolific self seeder and I had a stock of plants in pots to replace the parents.

 


Copyright A Walsh 2002-2007