Hardy geranium…there is a bullet-tough plant for you in the heat of high summer.
Do not confuse these with the zonal geraniums sold at many garden centres and box stores early in the season. While these ones are also reliably tough in full sun, technically, those annual geraniums are pelargoniums.
What do I like about the perennial hardy geraniums?
First: they are ridiculously easy to grow. Second: they are disease and pest resistant. They are also reported to be deer and rabbit proof too, but don’t quote me.
We are totally fenced for deer here so that theory has not been tested in our garden. And the lone bunny who snuck under my fence did not last long enough for any conclusive results. A neighbourhood owl or hawk cut the test period short.
There is wonderful variation amongst the geranium species and cultivars. Heights range from four inches to almost three feet. Some mound artfully to cover ground, some sprawl gracefully to fill in empty spaces and some stand proudly in the middle of the bed. All have palmate leaves, five-petaled flowers and a seed pod that looks like a miniature crane’s bill.
Flowers come in white, shades of pink, magenta, shades of blue, purple-black and striped. No yellows, oranges or reds though…until autumn when the leaves of some geranium species will change colour.
It is hard to pick a favourite but Geranium ‘Rozanne’ has to be near the top. Selected Perennial of the Year for 2008, it certainly has proven worthy of such designation in my garden.
The blue-purple flowers with their white eye are spectacular and bloom time is incredibly long…two months and still counting. Geranium psilostemon with its magenta flowers and dark eye blooms just as long.
Not to be left off the favourite list is Geranium renardii.
This low-growing, mounding species is quite different with its wrinkly, velvety soft sage-green leaves. White flowers with purple veins and wedge-shaped petals appear from spring to mid-summer. The taller cultivar, Geranium renardii ‘Philippe Vapelle’, has the signature renardii leaves and lovely bluish-purple flowers with dark veining.
Geranium cinereum ‘Lawrence Flatman’ is a recent acquisition. I already have G. c. ‘Ballerina’ which is very similar. In fact, ‘Lawrence Flatman’ is from the same breeding…a younger brother, if you will, of ‘Ballerina’.
Both have a neat mat of soft grey-green, deeply cut leaves and brilliant purplish-pink flowers with dark eyes. Dark veining accents the petals. The difference between the two…’Ballerina’ is smaller than ‘Lawrence Flatman’.
Another favourite, Geranium pratense (meadow cranesbill) has deeply-divided leaves and saucer-shaped flowers in varying shades of blue depending on the cultivar. Whatever the shade of blue, they all have delicate pink veining and dark anthers.
There are quite a number of cultivars in this species. One favourite is G. p. ‘Midnight Reiter’. This one has rich, plum-purple leaves with splashes of green and violet-blue flowers in late spring and early summer. Stunning.
Geranium x oxonianum ‘Claridge Druce’ and G. x o. ‘Katherine Adele’ are another couple of favourites. Both have medium green leaves…’Katherine Adele’ has a splashing of dark red spreading out from the leaf centres.
Their flowers are a little different…’Claridge Druce’ has deep pink flowers with dark veining. ‘Katherine Adele’ has pale creamy pink flowers with darker veining. Tolerant of sun or shade, these two foot tall specimens are great additions to any landscape.
Space here does not allow me to do this wonderful genus full justice. Suffice to say that almost any one you plant in your garden is sure to bring you pleasure….trouble-free and heat tolerant.
Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her column appears every second Friday.