This is a wonderful group of plants,
and not widely appreciated enough. They are quite unlike the
half-hardy frost tender plants that we normally call geraniums which
are properly called Pelargoniums in any case. They get their
common name of "cranesbill" from the shape of the seed
heads after the petals have fallen off that are in the shape of
- a crane's bill, (and head).
Hardy Geraniums are the true owners
of the name. Unlike the half-hardy Pelargoniums, they come
in shades that also occupy the blue-end of the spectrum spreading
towards pinks and white but without the deep vivid reds.
The plants are tough and resilient,
many are herbaceous perennials that die down in winter and flower
again year after year with very little care and attention being
necessary to keep their wonderful display going. They grow from
about 6" (15cm) to 4ft (120cm) tall depending on variety.
They are at their best around mid
The rest of this article comes courtesy
of Paul Young of Glendale Geraniums to whom I am very grateful
for allowing me to use his words and fabulous pictures. There are
plenty more (larger) pictures on his site though unfortunately (for
us at least) he doesn't sell these wonderful plants but runs
his site for the greater glory of the Hardy Geranium, and who can
Hardy Geraniums and I first became acquainted
back in 1984. I had just bought my first house and, as you do, started
filling up the garden with every plant that I could find at the
local Notcutts Garden Centre. Of course, I knew nothing of gardening
then and choice was determined by nothing more than the picture
on the plant label which resulted in planting disasters on a very
big scale, how was I to know that Gentiana Verna wouldn't
grow in my damp, shady alkaline soil and that half a dozen Mimulus
plants would go down without a fight in my baked, sunny front border
The one success was a plant that simply mushroomed
into a dome of lush green leaf, soon followed by a profusion of
the most amazing rich blue saucer shaped flowers. Geranium "Johnson's
Blue", it was love at first sight ! A quick trip back to
the garden centre found more Geranium varieties and so the love
affair began to flourish.
Despite moving house twice since, leaving vast
numbers of plants behind on each occasion, the current collection
of Hardy Geraniums is now in excess of 200, and growing !
Geranium sylvaticum "Mayflower"
I'm often asked why Hardy Geraniums. Well
the quick answer is, easy to grow, easy to propagate, good flowers,
long season. There's also the fun of discovering more varieties,
stay with your big national Garden Centres and you'll encounter
Geranium "Johnson's Blue", Geranium endresii "Wargrave
Pink" and one or two other mass produced varieties but
head off to any of the smaller Cottage Garden Nurseries and you'll
discover the true gems of the species, and there are many of them
Look out for Geranium sylvaticum "Mayflower",
as the name suggests, a May flowering Geranium and most definitely
one that no gardener should be without. From a platform of stately
and rich green foliage the plant produces clusters of the most eye-catching
mauve-blue flowers with a distinct white eye, one that certainly
stops the passers by !
Most gardens have an awkward dry shady spot that
simply defeats every effort to cultivate it, often close to the
base of large trees. Well don't despair because there are Hardy
Geraniums that will thrive there. Look out for any of the Geranium
phaeum varieties, all of which will flourish in the toughest
of shady conditions and all of which will produce an abundance of
small inverted flowers ranging from the pure white of Geranium
phaeum album to the rich dark purple of Geranium phaeum "Lily
Lovell". A better solution still is to seek out Geranium
nodosum which produces a denser mat of glossy dark green foliage
supporting soft purple, upright and funnel shaped flowers.
For pure spectacular
effect, look out for the better of the Geranium oxonianum
cultivars. Oxonianum is a generic name given to the prolific
offspring of parents Geranium versicolor
and Geranium endresii and, believe me, there are many of
them. Most smaller nurseries will offer a range of Geranium oxonianums
with only the trained eye being able to determine the slight variation
in flower colour. All varieties will have a base flower colour of
very soft through to mid range pink and an intricate veining on
the flowers ranging from near white through to very dark purple,
there are endless combinations.
If you want to catch the eye, you'll find
no better than Geranium oxonianum "Hollywood" and
Geranium oxonianum "Julie Brennan", both of which
are big plants, up to 4' tall and both of which produce the
most striking combinations of flower colouring.
If you don't grow Hardy Geraniums, start doing
so and surprise yourself. If you do grow one or two of the more
common varieties, check out some of their lesser known comrades
and prepare to be impressed.
If you want further information on the species
or want to exchange your own experiences, you can contact me via
my garden website where you can also check out some of the spectacular
varieties that dominate my garden.