One of my first efforts as a new gardener was to plant some pink geraniums in a pot with some blue lobelia. It was, and is, a classic combination that announces the start of summer here in the mid-Atlantic.
What I didn’t know at the time is that annual geraniums don’t actually belong to the Geranium genus. They are varieties of Pelargonium, another genus in the same botanic family. I’ve since become familiar with the “real” geraniums, and these attractive perennials now play an important role in many of my planting designs.
Where annual Pelargoniums are all sunshine and bright colors, perennial Geraniums are more subtle and low key. They typically have a low spreading habit and lobed foliage that is not as coarse as that of their annual cousins. Their delicate flowers also are not as showy, although they do light up the garden when in full bloom in late spring/early summer. Some varieties will bloom for months, and many have appealing fall color. With our milder winters, I’ve even found a few that are pretty evergreen in my Zone 7(a) climate.
With few pests and diseases, a medium growth rate and moderate water requirements, the real geraniums are an ideal low-maintenance perennial. Did I mention that they’re also deer and rabbit resistant? And while some geranium species aren’t too keen about hot summers, I’ve found ones that are perfectly happy in my sometimes steamy neck of the woods. Other than giving them a good start in decent soil, I pretty much plant them and forget them.
There are many great options to choose from. I’ve used shade-loving geraniums in sweeps as an attractive groundcover under trees. I’ve woven sun-loving ones through perennial beds to help knit things together while providing spots of late spring color. With such versatility, it’s no wonder these easy-natured gems have become some of my go-to problem solvers.
Here are a few of my all-time favorites:
Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Bevan’s Variety’: This bigroot geranium hails from Southern Europe and Turkey and handles our summer high heat and humidity better than other geranium species. Its thick fleshy root also makes it fairly drought tolerant. With larger than average leaves, it has a strong presence in the garden, and I’ve found it to be real workhorse in a variety of habitats.
Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’: Slightly more refined than ‘Bevan’s Variety’ (shown in the background), ‘Biokovo’ is a naturally occurring hybrid found in the Biokovo Mountains in Croatia. It’s covered in pale pink and white flowers from mid-spring through early summer, which creates a light, airy feel. I also like its smaller cousin, Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Karmina,’ which has deep pink flowers and blooms for me for many weeks.
Geranium x ‘Rozanne’: No list of favorite geraniums would be complete without mentioning the hybrid ‘Rozanne.’ It’s a long bloomer with pretty blue flowers that is just getting started in my garden. I will say that it doesn’t flower as prolifically here as I’ve heard it does in cooler climates. And it does have a tendency to get leggy, so I usually give it a good haircut mid-summer. That said, I love how it weaves through other plants, providing a shot of cool color all the way to fall.
Geranium sanguineum ‘Max Frei’: Dear gardening friends who love pink introduced me to ‘Max’ and it’s become another go-to geranium for me. Native to Europe and Asia, it has a tighter, more mounded habit than other varieties and often has great fall color. It blends sweetly with more architectural plants, as shown in the top photo.
Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’: Finally, last but by no means least, this unusual cultivar of our native spotted geranium has chocolate colored leaves and pale lavender flowers in spring. For whatever reason, we don’t have many native geraniums. But ‘Espresso’ is a great U.S. ambassador. It’s wonderful in a woodland setting, and it seeds about nicely in my garden.
Thanks to that attribute, I now have more native geraniums by number than any other kind – truly, a gift that keeps on giving!