Hardy Geraniums in My Garden
When I began gardening, I had never heard of hardy geraniums; I learned about them from a book on perennial gardening and was captivated by the photos. I now have hardy geraniums growing in almost every part of the garden, and my collection includes at least a dozen different varieties.
I love these plants not only for their beautiful flowers, but also because their foliage remains attractive when they are not in bloom. Geraniums grow well in my sandy soil, they are among the easiest of plants to divide, they are pretty much free of diseases and pests, and even the varieties rated for zone 5 have survived in my garden on the zone 4/5 border.
One geranium that grows in many places in my garden is G. x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo.’ This is a low-growing groundcover that makes a great edging plant for the front of the border. Biokovo graces my garden in June with masses of white flowers tinged with pink; and when it is finished blooming, its foliage provides a neat band that remains attractive throughout the season. The leaves and roots emit an astringent but pleasant aroma when they are touched. I became acquainted with Biokovo at the wonderfully eccentric nursery that Jean Moss used to run at her home in mid-coast Maine. Six years ago, at the end of the season, Jean sold me two divisions of this plant for $5 each and explained that I could pull the roots apart with my fingers to divide them into smaller clumps. I divided my two pots into eight small handfuls of roots and spaced them out along the front of the deck border. The following spring, each of those small divisions came up as a clump about 9” in diameter, and by year after that they had doubled in size and grown into the solid band that you see here. Because these plants expand in all direction by sending out shallow roots, I do need to thin them out each year. (I don’t consider them invasive, though, because they are so easy to pull up where they are not wanted.) I can’t bear to throw these lovely plants away, so I’m always looking for new homes for the ones I’ve thinned out. At this point, I have a 35’ edging of Biokovo along the front of the deck border, I have planted a 25’ row of it along the front of my property, and I have used it as edging in both the circular bed and the fence border. In addition, I’ve established divisions in my Gettysburg garden and I’ve given them away to countless relatives, friends, casual acquaintances, and co-workers in Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Maryland. And all this from the two $5 pots I bought six years ago! If my retirement portfolio yielded even half this return on investment, I’d be retired by now.
The circular flower bed that marks the turn into my driveway is 8’ in diameter and designed as three concentric circles of plants with a tall purple delphinium at the center. For the outer perimeter, I interplanted Biokovo with a rose pink variety of G. x cantabrigiense called ‘Karmina’ and with Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle). I so love the delicate pastel look of this when it is blooming in June, that I’ve repeated this combination at the front edge of the new fence border. G. x cantabrigiense is not the only species of geranium that I am growing in the circular bed. The ring of plants just inside the outer perimeter includes several taller geraniums. Two of these are varieties or hybrids of G. pratense, which form clumps 2’-3’ tall and bloom later in the summer. One of these, ‘Splish-Splash’ has white flowers variously splashed with purple (or are they purple splashed with white?). Another, ‘Johnson’s Blue,’ has been a favorite with gardeners since the 1950s. (I also have other clump-forming geraniums, varieties of G. sanguineum and G. maculatum, growing in my bedroom border.)
Because Johnson’s Blue does not bloom reliably for me, I’ve begun to grow some of the newer blue geranium hybrids that include G. endressii as one of the parents. Geraniums in the endressii family are my favorites. These plants begin as clumps; but as they begin to bloom, the branches get longer and become trailing rather than upright. They don’t look floppy and messy, however, because they continue to grow new upright foliage at the center of the clump and because the trailing branches tend to drape themselves over nearby plants in a very charming way. I think of these plants as “weavers” because their flowers tend to peek out among the flowers of nearby plants, tying them all together. Those are the blue flowers of ‘Brookside’ blooming above and behind Biokovo and Karmina in the circular bed. I also have Brookside growing in my blue and yellow border, along with a closely related variety, ‘Nimbus.’
Many of the G. endressii varieties and hybrids are pink. I have both G. endressii ‘Wargrave Pink’ and G. x oxonianum ‘A.T. Johnson’ growing in my deck border. These two plants, originally planted side by side, have grown together so that I now have trouble distinguishing them, except that one has flowers that are slightly more salmon and the other has flowers that are more silvery. I love them both and have included a division of this combination in the new fence border.
Even with all these hardy geraniums in my garden, there are so many more I would like to grow. I know that I will keep dividing old varieties and adding new ones as I develop new areas of the garden in the years to come.