Cut­ting-edge cranes­bills

Hardy gera­ni­ums are en­joy­ing a re­vival and are now at the fore­front of the 21st cen­tury gar­den

Garden News (UK) - - Garden Of The Week -

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

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