Growing Hardy Geraniums
Text and photo: Louise Curley
Every garden needs to have a selection of dependable plants that are easy to grow and some of my favourites are hardy geraniums. These herbaceous perennials, not to be confused with tender pelargoniums which are grown as summer bedding in containers and hanging baskets, have a plethora of pleasing attributes: they have handsome foliage, some provide excellent groundcover, they’re rarely troubled by pests and diseases, and there’s such a wide diversity of species, varieties and cultivars from which to choose that there are geraniums to suit all manner of garden situations.
Some thrive in shade and can cope with growing in the dry soil under a tree, while others are happy soaking up the sun. Alpine geraniums are compact and low-growing and can be grown in rock gardens and troughs, but hardy geraniums are perhaps most associated with cottage garden borders where their frothy mounds of foliage and billowing blooms gently tumble over the edges of paths. The flower colours range from crisp white and subtle pastel shades of pink and blues to bold magentas and violets. And if you want to do your bit to help wildlife it’s a good idea to plant some geraniums as their flowers are particularly popular with bees.
I have more geraniums than any other type of plant in my garden because they’re such low maintenance plants; I don’t see the point in struggling to grow plants that are tricky or that need lots of care and attention in order to thrive. I have the sparkling white Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Whiteness’ growing under a birch tree where it lights up the shade. Its delicate flowers belie the fact that this is a tough plant that can cope with the dry soil around the roots of a tree. G. nodosum makes clumps under the base of a sorbus tree where it flowers on and off from June to November. Geranium ‘Brookside has delicate, almost feathery leaves and is one of the longest flowering plants you can grow, producing blooms from late May until late October. It does have a tendency to sprawl, but if it starts to look untidy in midsummer simply cut it back to just above the ground, water it and feed it with some liquid seaweed fertiliser and within a week or so it will resprout fresh new foliage.
A recent addition is the long-flowering Geranium ‘Azure Rush’ which has large, saucer-like blue and white flowers with delicate purple veins; it’s also a compact plant, so it can be grown in a large container and it doesn’t tend to flop like some of the larger cultivars. Geranium ‘Orkney Cherry’ has unusual purple-bronze foliage which forms a neat mound that’s perfect for edging a border, and the vibrant pink flowers make a striking contrast with the leaves. Another favourite is G. phaeum ‘Samobor’ which I’ve planted underneath an amelanchier tree. It’s one of the first geraniums in my garden to emerge in spring, unfurling green leaves with maroon markings and sending up flower spires topped with deep purple, almost black flowers in late spring and early summer.
Hardy geraniums need very little care, simply cut back the untidy top growth in late autumn or early spring, mulch around the plants in spring with well-rotted compost or leaf mould and divide them every three years.
Om Louise Curley
Louise is a horticulturalist, garden writer and author of the award-winning book The Cut Flower Patch. She’s passionate about the power of plants to make us feel happy and is an advocate for organic gardening and encouraging wildlife into gardens.Get to know Louise Curley
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