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.
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!
‘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.
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.
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 ‘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.
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!