Meadow cranesbill are among the oldest flowers in cultivation in the western world. With the recent surge of new cultivars this plant will be with us for many years to come. Let me introduce you to this tried and true ornamental!
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 30, 2010. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Meadow cranesbill, Geranium pratense, has been among the most popular garden perennials for well over a hundred years.In fact, it was probably cultivated since medieval times.This plant is known by many common names including crowfoot crane's-bill, bassinets, Loving Andrews (after Saint Andrews, the Patron Saint of Scotland), Gratia Dei (Grace of God) and Odin's Grace (Odin was the Nordic God of Wisdom).The plant was valued for its blue flowers as blue was often considered a sacred colour.Its common name Odin's Grace probably alluded to the blue of Odin's eyes and mantle.As Christianity moved into the British Isles, the people replaced Odin with Saint Andrew (also known for his wisdom).The colour blue was also associated with Saint Andrew.Historically Irish people made a purple-blue dye from the flowers which was thought to be used to colour priests and/or the king's robes.
Like so many other garden ornamentals which have been around for a while, meadow cranesbill are currently undergoing a surge in popularity as many new cultivars hit the market.The wild form of G. pratense is native to meadow environments from western Europe, through central Asiato the Himalayas and western China.They are also naturalized across much of Canada, the New England States and around the Great Lakes.Plants may reach 120 cm although many of the newer cultivars are significantly shorter.The wild colour is blue-violet but the shades can vary and white forms also naturally occur.They bloom from June through to September, especially if plants are promptly dead-headed.They perform best in zones 4 to 8.As a testament to the work being done on this species, there are currently over 50 named cultivars, not to mention hybrids with genes from G. pratense.
Some older cultivars include 'Albiflorum', 'Rose Queen' and 'Striatum'
Some of the older cultivars include 'Albiflorum' (white, 120 cm), 'Rose Queen' (pink, 100 cm), 'Silver Queen' (pale blue, 130 cm), 'Mrs. Kendall Clarke' (violet-blue with pale veins, 75 cm) and 'Striatum' (aka 'Splish Splash', white with violet-blue spots and streaks, 100 cm).There are also double forms such as 'Plenum Violaceum' (violet-blue, 75 cm), 'Plenum Caeruleum' (light mauve-blue, 75 cm), 'Plenum Album' (white, 75 cm) and 'Summer Skies' (light mauve-blue, 60 cm).Both 'Mrs. Kendall Clarke' and 'Plenum Violaceum' have won Awards of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Above are 'Mrs. Kendell Clark', 'Summer Skies' and 'Plenum Violaceum'
Some more-recent selection include 'Double Jewel' whose double white flowers have a purple-pink center!Gorgeous!'Midnight Blues' and 'Criss Canning' have standard blue flowers but unlike normal G. pratense which have just one main bloom season then possibly a second flush, these two selection bloom all summer.
The latest rash of new cultivars have been among the purple-foliaged types. 'Purple Haze' and 'Victor Reiter Jr.' are among the oldest of these with dark-purple spring foliage that matures to dark green with purple-flushed edges. Both grow 75 to 90 cm. These types can be grown from seed and may show considerable variation. It was from seedlings of these cultivars that the newer ones have arisen. These new types also have dark purple spring foliage but hold on to this colour throughout the summer. 'Hocus Pocus' was developed in 2003 and sports larger-than-normal mauve-blue flowers on compact plants about 60 cm in height. The leaves become a striking two-tone green and purple in mid-summer. Quite similar but a little shorter in stature is 'Okey Dokey' which reaches 45 cm. 'Dark Rieter' remains reasonably purple all summer and has an even more compact habit, under 30 cm. 'Black Beauty' has the darkest foliage of any purple-leaved meadow cranesbill and also has a compact habit under 30 cm.
Some new purple-leaved cultivars include 'Midnight Reiter', 'Black Beauty' and 'Okey Dokey'
To date I am not aware of any meadow cranesbills with variegated foliage. Such a plant would be a HOT seller for sure. Imagine a purple-leaved 'Black Beauty' with white or pink-edged leaves.....ahhhh the stuff of dreams!
I would like to thank the following people for the use of their pictures: Galanthophile (Midnight Reiter and Plenum Violaceum), jamie68 (Summer Skies and Black Beauty), kniphofia (Mrs. Kendall Clarke and Striatum) and Weezingreens (Rose Queen).
About Todd Boland
I reside in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. I work as a research horticulturist at the Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden. I am one of the founding members of the Newfoundland Wildflower Society and the current chair of the Newfoundland Rock Garden Society. My garden is quite small but I pack it tight! Outdoors I grow mostly alpines, bulbs and ericaceous shrubs. Indoors, my passion is orchids. When not in the garden, I'm out bird watching, a hobby that has gotten me to some lovely parts of the world.