Ian and Teresa Moss offer their selection of the best geraniums for your garden - 29 May 2015
Hardy geraniums are now a deservedly popular and fashionable family of hardy perennials. They are reliable, easy to grow and beautiful, and are favourites with gardeners because of their usefulness in a wide variety of garden situations. There are geraniums that can be planted in sun, semi shade and shade, that provide excellent ground cover, and all have attractive foliage and delicate flowers in pink, mauve, blue or white.
Geraniums became a little unfashionable around 10 years ago, but recently have undergone a resurgence in popularity as gardeners have rediscovered their virtues. This has been helped by the release of a number of good new varieties that offer new features, such as interesting foliage, longer flowering seasons and neater habits. Here are our selection of some of our favourites.
‘Rozanne’ and her relatives
One of the best known of the more recent introductions is Geranium ‘Rozanne’. This variety was mentioned by Victoria Logue as a wonderful bee plant in the last newsletter. Originally found as a chance seedling in Donald and Rozanne Waterer’s garden in Kilve, Somerset, the variety was subsequently introduced by Blooms of Bressingham, and has since won a host of awards including RHS Chelsea Flower Show 'Plant of the Centenary'. A hybrid thought to include Geranium wallichianum in its parentage, ‘Rozanne’ is a vigorous mound forming geranium with attractive mottled foliage and a profusion of large blue flowers from late May or early June through until the first frosts. It grows well in sun or part shade in any reasonable soil. Since the release of ‘Rozanne’ a number of other new hybrids with similar parentage have been released. All have the same long flowering season. Here are some of the best:
Geranium ‘Azure Rush’ – more compact than ‘Rozanne’, with lighter blue flowers and a larger white eye. Flowers are possibly even larger than ‘Rozanne’, from which it is a sport.
Geranium ‘Lilac Ice’ – slower growing than most of the other hybrids, this variety has very pale pink, almost white, flowers, with darker pink veins, and lighter coloured foliage that is lime green when first emerging in spring. A sport from ‘Rozanne’, we find this variety performs best in light shade where the flowers are shown to their best advantage.
Geranium 'Lilac Ice' - photo Thon Groenendijk
Geranium wallichianum ‘Sylvia’s Surprise’ – vivid pink flowers with a white centre.
Geranium wallichianum 'Sylvia's Surprise' - photo Thon Groenendijk
Geranium ‘Pink Penny’ - A superb geranium discovered by Marco van Noort as a sport from ‘Rozanne’. Similar habit, with a neat mound of marbled foliage topped with deep pink flowers with strong and striking veining.
Geranium ‘Havana Blues’ – Another Marco van Noort introduction, this has very striking, strongly veined blue flowers and yellow green young foliage.
Geranium 'Havana Blues' - photo Thon Groenendijk
One of the often overlooked features of geraniums is their foliage, which looks particularly attractive as the plants emerge in spring and early summer. In recent years breeders have looked to build on this quality, with a range of good introductions with interesting and unusual foliage. Many will benefit from a trim after the first flush of flowers, which freshens up the foliage and will also encourage further flushes of flowers.
Geranium phaeum 'Springtime' - taken in our own garden
Some of the earliest geraniums into growth and flower are selections of Geranium phaeum. These are wonderful plants for moist but well drained soil in part shade, and flower from April through to June with nodding flowers in shades from white and pale pink through to almost black. The flowers are slightly nodding and held on strong stems above the attractive foliage. Some good varieties with particularly striking leaves include ‘Margaret Wilson’, with cream variegated foliage and amethyst blue flowers forming a wonderful contrast; ‘Springtime’, with lime green and red marbling with fabulous maroon flowers; and ‘Lavender Pinwheel’, with dark green leaves heavily mottled in black with ruffled purple and mauve flowers.
Geranium phaeum 'Margaret Wilson' - taken in our own garden
There are also a number of selections of the meadow cranesbill, Geranium pratense, which have lovely purple foliage. There a quite a few varieties out there, and it’s fair to say that, at least in terms of flower and foliage colour, the differences between them are subtle. They do vary in terms of vigour, and we recommend ‘Hocus Pocus’ with strong blue flowers above the foliage. Although they will grow well in sun or part shade, good light levels bring out the best in the foliage colour. Whilst the vast majority of these varieties have blue flowers, a hybrid geranium ‘Midnight Clouds’ has lovely white/pale pink flowers which contrast beautifully with the dark leaves.
Geranium pratense 'Hocus Pocus' Photo: Thon Groenendijk
There are also some great coloured leaf selections of Geranium x oxonianum. Our favourite is ‘Katherine Adele’, a superb selection with deeply lobed green, scented leaves heavily marked with maroon-burgundy, and lovely white flowers veined in pink in early summer.
Great Ground Cover
The shorter growing geraniums, such as Geranium sanguineum and its selections, are versatile plants that are great for ground cover, with good foliage and pretty flowers in shades of pink, white and purple. Flowering at no more than 30cm high and usually much lower, they can find a place in even the smallest gardens. Modern hybrid introductions combine these virtues with a long flowering season and excellent vigour. One of the best is Geranium ‘Tiny Monster’. This terrific hybrid geranium (a hybrid of G. sanguineum 'Ankum's Pride' x G. psilostemon) forms a fast-spreading mound of dark green leaves, bearing small magenta-pink flowers from early summer through to autumn. Ideal for edging or groundcover use and also a good choice for tubs or mixed containers. One of the longest flowering dwarf selections to date, this was in flower in our own garden last year from late April until well into December.
Geranium 'Tiny Monster' - taken in our own garden
Similar, but with paler pink flowers, is Geranium ‘Blushing Turtle’, bred in Canada. Both like free draining soil, and can be moderately drought tolerant once established. An older variety that also performs very well is Geranium ‘Dilys’, bred by Alan Bremner in the Orkneys. This and its sister ‘Light Dilys’ have beautiful pink flowers with a more delicate look to them, but are equally long flowering.
Geranium 'Blushing Turtle'. Photo: Thon Groenendijk
Ian and Teresa’s nursery in Somerset specialises in hardy and unusual perennials. They exhibit their plants at over 30 shows throughout the year. Plant enthusiasts can also buy their plants throughout the growing season at the Kilver Court nursery.