Photo by Melody

Holding Out for Hardy Geraniums

By Audrey Stallsmith (AudreyAugust 15, 2012

Back when I was a beginning gardener, I favored strong, silent types--plants which were as tough as nails and never complained! And I found hardy geraniums to be hero material: handsome, faithful, and rugged.

Gardening picture

That's not always a good thing, considering that types such as herb Robert have since made pests of themselves.  But hardy geraniums (AKA cranesbills) gave me confidence that I could grow things, so they still number among my champions.  Buxton's Blue--the late-blooming wallichianum pictured in the thumbnail--is just beginning this year's performance, with flowers that are magenta now but will turn true-blue when the weather cools.

geranium pratense Splish-Splash flowersThe majority of my geraniums are pratense types, which generally bloom in June here, and sometimes produce a second flush of flowers in late summer or fall.  I consider Splish-Splish the most striking pratense--with posies spattered like a Jackson Pollock painting!  Although the foliage of Purple Haze emerges a smoky purple in the spring, it fades disappointingly to dark green before the flowers appear.

My only double type is also a pratense, called Summer Skies.  Although impressive when happy, it frequently "clouds over" (sulks), with the buds sometimes drying up before they open.  The plant occupies an arid part of the garden, though, which could be the problem.  It doesn't seem to produce seed, but most of the other pratense types self-sow prolifically.

geranium dalmaticum Dragon Heart flowerMy sweetheart at the moment is the dalmaticum "knight" dubbed Dragon Heart, which boasts 2-inch flowers with dark veined centers.  It reminds me of the similarly striking psilostemon.  Another "pet" is sanguineum striatum, which has never grown very large, but has stripy flowers to die for.  And I also adore soboliferum's unusual "painted" blooms.

Although I have started most of my geraniums from seed, I'll be the first to admit that isn't always easy.  I've had one type (ocellatum) germinate in only three days and another (thunbergii Jester's Jacket)  take thirty-five.  Ocellatum is a strange little plant, as it can be cleistogamous and produce seeds in non-opening, self-pollinating flowers.  This can be disappointing for gardeners who are expecting color.  But the plant does occasionally throw out some "real" blooms too--only about a half inch across and black-hearted!  Hardy geraniums can also be propagated from root cuttings, though I've never tried that.

geranium sanguineum striatum flowersOkay, I have to admit that they aren't really indestructible.  The smaller variegated cranesbills never seem to survive for me very long, and I've lost a few others as well.  But I suspect I've had some of my larger plants for at least twenty years or so.  Hey, these Bills have no problem with commitment! Do be careful about which ones you choose, however, as they are probably going to be around for a long time.  And the species types especially can turn into weeds very quickly.   

Yes, my garden heroes have always been hardy geraniums.  And my heart still beats faster when I see them on a seed trade list! 


  About Audrey Stallsmith  
Audrey StallsmithAudrey is the author of the Thyme Will Tell mystery series from WaterBrook Press (Random House) and an e-book of humorous rural romances titled Love and Other Lunacies. In addition to digging up plots--both garden variety and novel--the former Master Gardener writes free articles on plant history and folklore for her Thyme Will Tell site and posts her photos at . Audrey also designs hay-seedy stuff and nonsense for her Rustic Ramblings Zazzle store, and indulges in mystery novels, apologetics, cryptic crosswords, old lace, beads, and Border Collies. Follow her on Google.

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