Comfort Me With Geraniums
Book Review: The Plant Lover’s Guide to Hardy Geraniums, by Robin Parer.
If you love Geraniums, you will love this book. If you don’t love Geraniums, this book may plant the seeds (or perhaps a division) of Geranium love in your gardener’s soul.
But first, let’s clear up a matter of taxonomy. The pretty red flowered annuals that grow in pots and are commonly called Geraniums are actually not Geraniums, botanically speaking. They are Pelargoniums. This confusion originated with Carl Linnaeus himself, so there’s no reason to feel bad about it.
But thanks to Carl’s mistake, Pelargoniums go by the common name Geranium while Geraniums go by the common name Hardy Geranium or Cranesbill (due to the shape of the seed capsule).
The Plant Lover’s Guide to Hardy Geraniums was written by Robin Parer, owner of the mail order nursery Geraniaceae. For people with an interest in this genus, Geraniaceae’s website is definitely worth a visit.
Geraniums are not showboats of the garden. They are background plants, plants that can fill in around taller and more dramatic neighbors. But this is a critically important role for those who believe (as I do) that bare ground should always be covered.
Moreover, Geraniums can perform this role beautifully if you have the right one for your location. The flowers are small but can be prolific. I’m particularly attracted to the blue-flowered species, but other colors include white, pink, and magenta. The leaves have a variety of interesting shapes and some offer fall color as well.
The heart of this book is a beautifully illustrated review of 140 kinds of Hardy Geranium. It makes a fun read the first time through but is worth hanging onto for future reference. The Geraniums are divided into groups based on usage: shade gardens, ground covers, rock gardens, etc.
There is also a whole section on North American Geraniums – and here I was thinking that the only one was Wild Geranium (G. maculatum). Actually, there a number of other garden-worthy North American species, in addition to a whole squadron of G. maculatum cultivars.
The book also includes a discussion of designing with Geraniums, propagation techniques, and other issues of value to the gardener.
I think my favorite Hardy Geranium is still the old cultivar ‘Johnson’s Blue’. In our garden there are also masses of G. maculatum, both the white and lavender-flowered varieties. I have also tried ‘Rozanne’, but with mixed results. G. renardii has been a disappointment but ‘Biokovo’ is gradually becoming a new favorite.
Thanks to this book, there is a long list of Geraniums I am dying to try: the dense ground cover G. sanguineum, shade tolerant G. phaeum, plus the blue-flowered ‘Brookside’, and ‘Orion’ and on and on.
I had no idea the geraniums I’ve always thought were geraniums, aren’t. Anyway, I think the hard geraniums are lovely. While I’m capable of looking this up myself, do you know if they are drought-tolerant at all? Instead of asking you, perhaps I should just order the book or better yet, visit the website you linked.
There are certainly some Geraniums that are drought tolerant, particularly after being established. ‘Biokovo’ is one of them, I believe. In this book there is a whole section on Geraniums for rock gardens, I think many of those are drought tolerant.
Thanks, I’ll look into Biokovo.
Sounds like a wonderful book – perfect for those very long winter days when we are dreaming of next years garden. I have a tiny little geranium that pops up every year and it’s just lovely. It took me a lot of searching to find out what it was & I think it’s a Geranium robertianum.
I think I saw that species when I was in Toronto.
Your posts always leave me with new ideas for my garden. Definitely interested in ground cover and shade-tolerant Geraniums.
Definitely worth trying.
I love geraniums and just added a new one ‘Midnight Clouds’ to the garden. 🙂
Hmm, never heard of ‘Midnight Cloud’. Sounds intriguing.
I have never grown hardy geraniums, but I keep reading good things about them. I saw some for sale in a local nursery this year, but balked at the price. Perhaps it is time to take the plunge. I think there must be a good place I’m my woodland garden for them!
Lots of them are well adapted to shade. Plus some are happy in hotter climates than Chicago.
ha, thanks for educating me. I was always puzzled about the hardy geraniums, I have in my garden look nothing like the potted uglies my mum has. I thought, they just made a mistake with the names. Good to hear, it’s not a Berlin specific mistake, but one of old.
It is just a little confusing.
I’m a great fan of hardy geraniums, well most of them anyway! I have 2 that I am frantically pulling out as they are determined to take over the garden, clearing all the roots out isn’t easy though, one seeds everywhere and the other puts out long runners which root. The first is G. striatum, formerly Lancastriense and the second was bought as something else but I think is G. procurrens. All my others are very well behaved!
G. maculatum can be hard to get rid of. Any little bits of rhizome left in the soil will regenerate into plants. But then, why get rid of it?
I think Geranium phaeum is possibly my favourite Jason, so I hope you will try growing one too… One I have (labelled simply G. phaeum) has dark purple almost chocolate coloured flowers and then I have one that is almost identical but with variegated leaves (G. phaeum ‘Samobor’). The pale flowered ones are also pretty and do very well in shade as well as under trees where not much else grows. Look forward to seeing which ones you will try for next season!
I may have to try Geranium phaeum. It’s definitely on my watch list.
They are certainly pretty but the last thing I need is another ground cover intent on taking over the garden. I have pulled these out of my garden and lawn over the years so someone nearby must have them.
The ones I have planted have not been so aggressive, except maybe for G. maculatum, which I like anyway.
What has your experience been with Rozanne?
It seemed to die away if it didn’t get enough moisture. Otherwise I like it. It clambers up other plants and blooms in unexpected places, which I appreciate.
G. phaeum ‘Samobor’ is a winner, in my books. It grows easily in shaded conditions and is easily transplanted. For some it may be thuggish but I’ve always found it easy to control. On the other hand, despite all its good press, Roxanne has been a disappointment for me. I planted G. Biokovo this summer and while I liked it, I will have to wait another year before having an opinion, to see how it fares over the winter.
Interesting that we both have been disappointed in ‘Rosanne’. ‘Samobor’ sounds like one I have to try!
I like how some of them tolerate the less than perfect conditions of dry shade, and someday when I grow up I may be better able to appreciate these subtle, reliable workers, but right now I just can’t get past the fickle fancy stuff. Someday though. I have at least one, so maybe that’s a start.
The longest journey (to the plant nursery) begins with a single step.
You must have some G. phaeum. They are wonderful. The leaves are fantastic. They quickly get big, so you have to think about the place to put them. G. sanguinum are also very nice. Especially Striatum and Blushing Turtle. I have Rozanne, and think it is fantastic.
Seems like G. phaeum is a crowd pleaser!
I like geraniums but not enough to buy and grow them. I’d still like to have that book though, because one of the reasons I haven’t been grabbed by geraniums is because I never know what I’m looking at. If they aren’t well tagged it’s easy to get lost.
In the book she notes that mislabeling varieties in the trade is pretty common.
Oh how I love the title of your post. Can I borrow it for a story? Really, I am more of a writer than a gardener, although I told my husband yesterday that rocks and trees were by far my favourite things in the world, which is a bit unfair. I do love following your posts. I am also from the part of the world where favourite holds onto the ‘u’.
Feel free to use the title however you like!
I have tried many geraniums in my garden. There are only two that do any good here. One is the Biokovo and the other is one I have had for years and am not sure witch it is. I would love to read this book.
You might enjoy it.
Haven’t had success with geraniums here but perhaps it’s time to try again.
At least it’s an option you can explore.
Like you, I have mixed opinions on Rozanne. I love the long bloom period, but find it’s sprawling nature – followed by complete dieback – a bit hard to work into the garden design. It’s not an annual for me, but neither is it as reliable a perennial as some of the other geraniums.
I really liked G. sanguineum for a while. In fact, I liked it so much that I had about 10 clumps growing through the garden, but the love affair ended. In Tennessee, I found that it was both an aggressive spreader and yet struggled to make a dense groundcover that excluded weeds. I’ve also found that it’s quite difficult to remove or control the spread. It makes very thick, rather deep roots. I dug hard to remove it, but still found that it came back just about everywhere it had been growing. I’m now on Round 2 of removals and expect that I may need a 3rd or 4th round to completely eliminate it.
That leaves ‘Biokovo’ as my favorite geranium, although I think it probably wants a cooler climate than Tennessee too. Probably grows much better for you? It does grow thickly enough to block weeds and it spreads at a moderate rate, plus it’s MUCH easier than G. sanguineum to remove if it spreads too far, but I do struggle with dieback in the heat of summer, and that’s only in partial sun. I think I’ll try moving some divisions to a shadier area when it finally cools down and the rains arrive (if they ever do) to see if it will be happier in a cooler spot.
I will be cautious in my approach to G. sanguineum after reading this. ‘Biokovo’ does grow well for me. It originates in the mountains of Croatia so I don’t know how that compares to Tennessee. I don’t mind the sprawling character of ‘Rozanne’ – actually I like how it climbs other plants. But the dieback is a problem if there isn’t enough moisture.
Hello Jason, we’ve never grown geraniums but they’re on the list, they’re such tough, versatile plants, which as so good for wildlife too that there’s little to fault them. The only trouble is remembering that sometimes, geraniums are not geraniums but pelargoniums.
That can be a challenge.
I’m glad you have cleared up the difference between pelargoniums and geraniums. I have a groundcover plant given to me as a cutting from a friend, and she called it a Native Geranium. It has been a big success in difficult parts of our garden, loving the shade and sun in equal measure, but best of all it brings SO many bees. (it looks a lot like the Wild Geranium in your photo). A plant so useful is very welcome in our garden.
I didn’t know there was a Geranium native to Australia. Maybe you should post some pictures.
Will do…perhaps it has escaped from another country.
I added a couple of Geraniums this year, solely for their foliage.
The foliage can be nice, though I’m a flower guy myself.