Generous Geraniums (Part One)

I am enjoying a stable and long-term relationship with hardy geraniums.  They are steadfast and true.  They never panic or give in to drought or deluge.  They are not rocked by storms.  They resist the onslaught of predators.  They adapt to a myriad of situations.  They compliment and enhance the natural beauty of those around them.  They offer year-round interest with bouncy foliage in spring and glowing colour in autumn, and in-between, a steady flush of airy flowers.  They dance delightfully when visited by a bee or blown by a breeze.  There couldn’t be a more generous garden plant.

Here is a selection of my favourite hardy geraniums, and how I use them in my garden.

Geranium himalayense ‘Gravetye’

This is my favourite purple geranium.  It is one of the earliest to flower, in May.  It will continue for a couple of months, and then often flowers lightly on into the end of the season.  It is the most wonderful ultraviolet with a magenta flush at the centre, and magenta veining.  The anthers are purple-black, and it develops delightfully curly stigma.  If you look closely, it sparkles.  It is utterly stunning with low light shining through.  Look at it from any angle: it is breathtakingly beautiful.  I love this geranium with Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ and any rose.  Hardy geraniums are fabulous for hiding the ugly ankles of the roses.  This geranium does produce ‘cranesbill’ seedheads, which can be dead-headed if you want to prolong flowering, or you can let a few set seed and harvest the baby plants the following year.  It is quite low-growing, at about 30cm, so plant it at the front of a border to fully appreciate it.

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Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’

And this is my favourite magenta geranium.  Like ‘Gravetye’ it is lit from within, like an old-fashioned fairy light (you know, the ones with the really warm glow).  This one has apricot-orange anthers, each held at a jaunty angle.  It is all the more dramatic for its black centre, its veining standing out like false eye-lashes.  It has perhaps the most perfect little cup shape ever seen in a geranium.  Unlike ‘Gravetye’ where the flowers are often in pairs, this more often holds a single perfect flower in a little nest of perfect green foliage.  It opens to the sun and shimmers there, before closing up again at night.  This geranium does not stop flowering from late May until December.  And it produces masses of flowers.  Unlike ‘Gravetye’ it is sterile, so can just keep on and on producing flowers without becoming exhausted by seed production.  To make more plants, divide in autumn.  They plump up marvellously in just one year.

Photos never quite do this geranium justice.  I can never capture the orange of the anthers or the perfect cup shape or the shimmery magenta all at once.  I will keep trying!

Geranium 'Anne Thomson' (3)
Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’
Geranium 'Anne Thomson' shimmering in sunlight
Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’ shimmering in the sun

Geranium ‘Orion’

‘Orion’ is my favourite blue-purple.  It has large cupped flowers with the finest pencilled purple veins, radiating from a small white corona.  It is tall, reaching a metre if grown around roses.  It is a gregarious geranium: its flowers will thread through its neighbours, ending up quite far from the plant, in every direction.  It will grow in virtually any situation, but produces masses of flowers in a sunny spot.  I combine it in my Bright Border with the bright coral ‘Benjamin Britten’ and in my Rose Garden with the peachy ‘Roald Dahl’.  It complements both beautifully.  ‘Orion’ is sterile, so does not produce seed-heads.  This means it just keeps flowering on and on and on and on and on.

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Geranium ‘Orion’

Geranium ‘Brookside’

This is my favourite pale blue-lilac geranium.  It has an incredible delicacy and translucent quality.  You can see from the picture below that it looks wondrful from every angle.  The blue cloud of its perfect little flowers is an early summer spectacle.  I love it with the contrasting colour of Geum ‘Hilltop Beacon’ and then with Rosa ‘Thomas a Beckett’.  This geranium produces masses of flower, and then masses of cranesbill seedheads.  I always have a dilemma whether to shear them off.  There are so many that it can make the plant start to look a bit tired by August.  But they are sticky to remove by hand, and there are so many.  So now I do tend to chop the whole mass back, and there is new foliage and new flowers within three to four weeks.  Because it produces seed, this will reward you with new seedlings.

Geranium 'Brookside' (3)
Geranium ‘Brookside’

Geranium magnificum

This is the darkest purple of all my geraniums.  It has almost black-purple veining which spreads right to the edge of the petals.  There is a distinctive almost pentagonal flower shape.  Its textures are sublime: delightfully downy buds and stems, and endearingly wrinkled petals they emerge from their calyx.  As you would expect from the name, it bears great masses of huge flowers.  It has a generous flush in June, and if you deadhead these, it will produce a lighter flush later on.  It is one of the few geraniums that can be seen right across the garden from 20 metres away.  Apart from the roses, it is the star of my June garden.  I grow it with Alchemilla mollis, fighting for space in ‘Thug’s Corner’ with Rosa ‘Reine de Violettes’, raspberry canes, Knuatia macedonica and Centranthus ruber.  Only a big and beefy geranium could hold its own in such company.

Geranium magnificum (2)
Geranium magnificum
Geranium magnificum with buds
Geranium magnificum

Geranium ‘Tiny Monster’

I must admit that I bought this geranium for its name.  But it offers something the other magenta geraniums don’t.  They all have black vampish false-eyelash veining at the centre.  ‘Tiny Monster’ doesn’t need mascara.  It is happy to go bare-faced, with darker magenta veining, to show off its natural glow.  It has the fabulous orange filaments, tipped with darkest purple.  It is a thrilling combination.  Though the foliage is low growing, the flowers stand loud and proud.  It doesn’t produce masses of flower, but each one shines out.  I grow this geranium at the base of the climbing rose ‘A Shropshire Lad’ where it intermingles with Aubretia early in the season, and Fuchsia ‘Delta’s Sarah’ late in the season.

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Geranium ‘Tiny Monster’

I am going to have to take a break there.  I have exhausted myself with my geranium devotion.  I will come back again with more recommendations, such is my passion for this plant.  I will also be posting photos of the planting combinations described, once they are at their peak.

Do you have a dependable hardy perennial you could choose above all others?  Nothing could tempt me away from the hardy geranium, but I admire other strong partnerships!

40 Comments Add yours

  1. Susan Beard. says:

    Now I will get me some more….ha. ✨🌾😀👍✨

    1. Ali says:

      It is an expansive hobby, gardening, isn’t it? (That wasn’t a typo! I like to look on the positive side!)

  2. Tish Farrell says:

    Thanks for the very informative geranium menu, Ali.

  3. I always think of geraniums in oranges and reds – I like the change of pace with these colours. I think I like ‘Anne Thompson’ the best

    1. Ali says:

      That might be pelargoniums, confusingly referred to as geraniums too!

      1. Yes, that is true – I think they are often confused.

  4. susurrus says:

    I love geraniums too. These are beautifully captured.

  5. Gorgeous photos, and all so beautiful it would be difficult to choose a favorite.

    1. Ali says:

      It is very difficult. Like choosing between children!

  6. janesmudgeegarden says:

    Flowers are so interesting when you look at them really closely, aren’t they. I’m feeling encouraged to try some geraniums again after reading your post!

    1. Ali says:

      Oh good! Let me know how you get on! My book on hardy geraniums suggests they prefer morning to afternoon sun, but maybe you have varieties that can take the heat?

  7. Heyjude says:

    You describe them with such love and passion! ” black vampish false-eyelash…” I shall have a go at capturing mine again this year and see what you think they are!

    1. Ali says:

      That’s funny, Jude, because I really dolls be them with a passion! I look forward to seeing yours.

  8. Is it true that Geranium Brookside you have to bury under the patio to germinate?

    1. Geranium Anne Thompson is stunning!

  9. bcparkison says:

    Lovely. A blog friend has a “red Geranium” that will be 10 years old on May 31.I will need to look up pelargonium.

  10. rusty duck says:

    I’m really just discovering them. ‘Anne Thomson’ and G. magnificum have just been added to the list. Even better for me, many of them thrive in shade. 🙂

    1. Ali says:

      Fabulous. Yes, Geranium phaeum and oxonianum are especially good in shade.

  11. I love all hardy geraniums and love your blog post pictures – let me add that phaeum has totally taken over my garden which is lovely but goodness it doesn’t half spread!

    1. Ali says:

      Oh wow! I didn’t know it was rampant! I have one little plant which has so far stayed put, but I look forward to it finding its feet!

  12. I have lots of common pink geraniums but really fancy some in purple and blue. Do you give yours the Chelsea chop? Mine are already looking straggly even though they have barely started flowering.

    1. Ali says:

      I can never bear to give anything the Chelsea chop! Wonder if yours will fill out over the summer? What varieties do you have? Are they newly planted? They really get nice and plump the second year.

      1. Oh no they have been here for years I think – were well established when we moved in two years ago so not sure of variety.

      2. Ali says:

        It will be interesting to see what variety it is. ‘Ann Folkard’ is quite sprawly.

      3. Pinker than Ann Folkard and no black eyes. If I ever move again I’m going to insist on a planting list for the garden!

      4. Ali says:

        I know! It takes so long to identify things, doesn’t it? Another longshot- ‘Russell Pritchard’?

  13. I absolutely love these little gems. Such beautiful cover 💗

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Lisa!

  14. I haven’t really paid much attention to hardy geraniums, but this post is telling me that I should! Next time I visit the nursery, I shall explore! 😉

    1. Ali says:

      Oh good! I’d be interested to know which varieties you find.

      1. It might take me a little while to get around to it, but I will definitely explore what kinds there are at my favorite nursery in town! I forgot to say how amazing your rose is! Just incredible!

  15. pommepal says:

    I grow the reds,pinks and whites which I think are pelagoniums and the do really will in this climate. I have not tried the geraniums but I am tempted after this post

    1. Ali says:

      I’ll be interested to know if you find them, and how they get on!

  16. A great selection Ali. Love the Geraniums.
    Looking good in our garden right now is one of the summer dormant tuberous ones which conveniently dies back after flowering so is good for planting with later flowering perennials. It’s name escapes me entirely.

    1. Ali says:

      Geranium tuberosum?

      1. Might be, thank you. I will google and see. It shared space with the beautiful tuberous G.malviflorum but eventually outcompeted it!

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