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.

Not a Geranium

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.

Wild Geranium
Wild Geranium (G. maculatum)

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.

Geranium 'Tschelda'
Geranium ‘Tschelda’

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.

Geranium 'Johnson's Blue'
Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’

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.

Wild Geranium
Frost on Wild Geranium

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.

44 Comments on “Comfort Me With Geraniums”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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’.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

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