I can’t recall how I discovered the article in Pacific Horticulture Magazine. I can’t even tell you how long ago it was. But I can tell you that the subject matter was plants, specifically hardy Geranium and its relatives.
It was written by Robin Parer and later I discovered that she is the recognized expert of the genus Geranium and owner of Geraniaceae Nursery in California. And later still, I became a yearly customer of hers as I fell in love with this lovely plant genre.
First, I will do my best to clear up the confusion that surrounds the word Geranium. I’m not talking about the flowering plants that adorn seasonal containers with bright red, orange, pink or white flowers. Those are, botanically speaking, Pelargoniums and only survive the most mild of winters here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m talking about the winter-hardy Cranesbills, the perennial groundcovers, border and rock garden plants, festooned with multiple cup-shaped blossoms that rival the sweetest of wildflowers with their informal nature.
The Geranium’s common moniker, Cranesbill, is so named for the telltale crane’s bill look the seed head develops after the flowers fade, but many of us still prefer to call them hardy Geraniums. Hardy, because most of them will survive our winters and come back bigger and better the following spring.
Probably the most common of the hardy Geraniums is the cultivar “Rozanne.” Patented in 2001 in Somerset, England, “Rozanne” is super easy to grow and produces lovely lavender-blue flowers from May to frost. Like many Geraniums, it is a lax spreader so it will mingle well with taller neighbors but probably smother anything smaller. This common trait makes siting Geraniums the most challenging aspect for the gardener.
Although “Rozanne” and a few other Geranium cultivars are readily available at most nurseries in spring, there are many other noteworthy Geraniums for gardeners that are, sadly, only available through specialty nurseries. And trust me, once you realize what beauties are out there, you’ll have a new obsession.
In her lovely book, “A Plant Lover’s Guide to Hardy Geraniums,” Robin Parer details the species and cultivars for the hardy Geranium enthusiast. She discusses the various species and which ones would be most suitable for success in specific garden settings. For me, because my love of plants is so vast and space in my garden is not so much, her section on rock gardens and containers has been invaluable.
I have been growing many of my newly acquired Geraniums in containers on my patio with great success.
A happy plus is that Ms. Parer details not only the flowers of 140 Geraniums but also the foliage. A four page, full-color visual of Geranium leaves is fascinating in and of itself. As she points out, “The endless variety of leaves provides one of the strongest reasons why gardeners might want to grow hardy geraniums.”
I think at least at this moment, my favorite of the hardy Geraniums are the comparatively diminutive Cinerum group. With flowers and leaves measuring a mere one and a half inches and the total plant topping out at 12 inches tall by 15 inches wide, these plants are perfect for small containers on my patio. I’m charmed by the sweet five-petal, light pink flowers with dark burgundy veins. “Ballerina,” “Lawrence Flatman” and “Jolly Jewel Night.” Each sports subtle differences that deserve an up-close look that container-growing allows. ☸