Hardy geraniums are enjoying a revival and are now at the forefront of the 21st century garden
If there’s one plant in the garden at Glebe Cottage we just couldn’t do without, it has to be the geranium. Not that we’d have any choice since many of them self-seed and, in just about every case, are most welcome.
The only one that overdoes it occasionally is Geranium nodosum; its magenta flowers can foil your best-laid plans when it pops up in the middle of a carefully planned pink patch, but it’s easy-going, evergreen and in addition to flowering from April to November, its leaves change to oranges and reds in autumn. One selection we were given by my friend John Fielding is called G. nodosum ‘Dark Heart’. It has deep purple petals edged in magenta.
Once upon a time, hardy geraniums were vaguely unfashionable and used mainly for infill between more selfimportant plants. Now though, they’re enjoying a revival. With the vogue for easy-going plants that excel without any pampering, these geraniums are now at the forefront of the 21st century garden.
What makes them such important plants? For a start, most are truly perennial, really long-lived plants which, with care and occasional division, can go on contributing their unique qualities ad infinitum. Few of them need special attention, they’re accommodating plants, most are tolerant of a wide range of conditions and few of them need staking.
Since the wild species come from all manner of habitats, from exposed mountains to densely shaded woods, there are geraniums to fit in with every
‘ Geranium pratense seeds itself around and by midsummer cavorts with anybody it happens to find itself next to’
sort of garden situation. Some are showstoppers, others much more modest. Many have excellent foliage, sometimes changing to rich autumnal shades, and their flower colour covers a range from pure white to vivid magenta with pinks,
purples, blues and lilacs, as well as a few with blooms that are almost black.
In the garden here at Glebe Cottage, we’re lucky enough to have a variety of different situations, everything from shady spots under the trees to hot spots on our raised bed and open, sunny beds and borders where plants consort happily together. In the latter, Geranium
pratense seeds itself around and by midsummer cavorts with anybody it happens to find itself next to. Sometimes its flowers are true blue, sometimes soft grey or white.
It’s important the geranium you choose fits its site, so find out where it comes from.
We were lucky enough to see one of my favourite rock garden cranesbills, Geranium sanguineum striatum (used to be Geranium sanguineum
lancastriense) growing in some sand dunes in its native home on Walney Island off the Lancashire (now Cumbria) coast. Low mats of close foliage are spangled with pale pink flowers that are etched with deeper pink lines. It flowers all summer long.
It’s a racing certainty that it, and its close relatives, will do well in light soil, tolerate high exposure and luxuriate in full light.
Known as the bloody cranesbill (probably because of its rubescent autumn foliage rather than its bad habits), it’s an ideal candidate for a gravel garden or the front of a sundrenched border.
If you’re not into pink, there’s a lovely white-flowered form, ‘Album’, with wiry stems and informal flowers, and there are any amount of varieties and selections with intense magenta flowers.
A favourite of mine, Geranium sanguineum
striatum, with its perfect pink petals and deep pink veining