Early spring is the time when I look around my garden to spot the gaps left by plants that have failed to survive the winter. When thinking about how to fill these gaps I am tempted by exotic tropical plants with their lush foliage and showy flowers.
However, gardening on a north facing slope in North Wales near the sea means being exposed to salt laden gales and a lack of sunlight. These are not ideal conditions for tropical plants. In addition tropical plants need to be kept frost free over winter. This means either growing them in pots or digging them up at the end of summer and storing them inside during the winter months, with no guarantee of survival.
I decided instead to fill the gaps with hardy geraniums. These are plants that can cope with my growing conditions. They are frost hardy, reliably perennial, virtually pest and predator free and resistant to diseases. They are also easy to maintain and remain evergreen throughout winter. Many are very colourful and have scented foliage.
The name hardy geranium is used to distinguish these plants from tender geraniums. This is a related group properly known as Pelargoniums. Pelargoniums are not frost hardy and do not usually survive our British winters unless grown in very mild coastal districts or brought indoors during the coldest months.
Hardy geraniums are found on all the main continents and new species are still being discovered in the more remote and inaccessible areas of the world. About 10% of the 200 or so species and over 600 named hybrids and forms have white or nearly white flowers.
The rest range in colour from the palest pink to the darkest violet-blue. Many flowers are veined, netted or overlaid with another colour. Others change colour with age and a select few are double-flowered. Some have attractive autumn/fall leaf colour.
Hardy Geraniums Why You Should Grow Them
These meadow cranesbills, as they are commonly called, were once common in wild-flower meadows. Due to changes in farming practices, they are now largely restricted to hedgerows. There are as yet no yellow flowering hardy geraniums and no species have so far been discovered with scented flowers.
When I started gardening over 35 years ago, it didn’t take long before I found out how useful hardy geraniums could be as plants for the mixed border. They are left untouched by slugs, snails and rabbits. Pest such as aphids and whitefly also leave them alone.
Several of the species are evergreen and some have scented leaves. Many will flower throughout the year, especially if they are given a light tidy up with a pair of shears after the first flush of flowers fade and before they set seed.
New growth soon appears and they carry on flowering. There is no pruning to do to these plants as they only need the old foliage to be cut away during the early spring tidy-up. As a group, hardy geraniums are very easy to grow and are tolerant of a wide range of soil types and garden situations
Because hardy geraniums will give you many years of trouble-free gardening it is no wonder they are often know as the Queen of the Border. They are also regularly voted among the top five perennial plants. It is these qualities, together with their versatility, ability to mix well with other herbaceous perennials and to blend with virtually any colour scheme that makes them the backbone of many mixed borders.