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.