Top Ten Hardy Geraniums – Which To Choose and How To Grow
If there’s one plant I would recommend growing in the garden more than any other it is the hardy geranium, or cranesbill. Wildlife-friendly (great for bees), a fabulous flowerer, and tolerant of most soils and situations, it's unbeatable. No garden should be without the hardy geranium! And because they are undemanding and easy to grow in almost any situation, they're a great choice for beginner gardeners too.
Not to be confused with the tender bedding and pot plants, perlagoniums, which are also often called geraniums, cranesbills are hardy perennial plants that happily cope with winter weather. The foliage dies down each autumn, with new growth appearing in the spring.
I believe all plants in the garden need to earn their keep in supporting wildlife as well as looking pretty and cranesbill geraniums do both exceptionally well. They are superb for attracting pollinators such as bees and hoverflies. Amazingly adaptable, from troublesome dry shady corners to sun-baked borders you’ll find a geranium species for almost any soil and aspect.
Often prolific flowerers, cranesbill also offer the advantage of very attractive leaves, often delicately shaped, and sometimes with autumnal colour. Certain varieties rarely lose their leaves so look great even in the middle of winter.
For a plant that demands so little attention this plant are a real asset that no gardener should be without.
There’s a wealth of choice too: from small low-growing types perfect for pots, to plants tall enough to splash welcome colour throughout the border, right through to ground-covering, weed-smothering carpeting geraniums.
If you’re wondering which to choose, here’s a list of some of my top ten recommended favourites to get you started.
1. Geranium sanguineum var. striatum
One of the longest flowering geraniums I know, producing a prolific array of saucer-shaped blooms in subtle shades of pink streaked with crimson veining, from May right through to September or even October. Low-growing and ground hugging, like all sanguineums it enjoys full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Small and compact enough to also do well in containers. H 20cm.
10. Geranium cinereum ‘Laurence Flatman’
A member of the Alpine group, like all cinereums this stunning cultivar will appreciate full sun and a very well-drained, light soil. I always grow alpines like this in pots and troughs so that I can be sure they get the soil conditions they need to do well: a 50/50 mixture of coarse grit or sand and peat-free, loam-based compost. H 20cm.
2. Geranium phaeum ‘Raven’
Commonly referred to as the Dusky Cranesbill Geranium phaeum is an incredibly hardy species, tolerant of the driest and shadiest of spots. The plant is almost evergreen so perfect for brightening up a tricky corner. The large leaves make for great ground cover, helping to keep weeds at bay. ‘Raven’s’ slightly reflexed flowers are a dramatically deep shade of purple, blooming throughout May, June and July. Tough perfect for shade it will be quite tolerant of some sun. H 60cm.
3. Geranium 'Terre Franche'
Exquisite soft violet-blue flowers in May and June contrast wonderfully with the sage grey-green, velvety textured foliage. A joyful addition to any garden border with well-drained soil it is tolerant of sunshine or shade. H 30cm.
4. Geranium ‘Elke’
An eye-catching show stopper producing masses of dark pink flowers tinged with soft white edges throughout the summer. With distinctively shaped, deeply divided leaves, Elke’s low-growing, spreading habit make it a great groundcover choice. Grown at the front of a border, it will gently tumble over path edges. Becomes drought-tolerant with age. Foliage turns red in autumn. Full sun or partial shade. June to September. H 20cm.
5. Geranium ‘Orion’
Of all the many blue geranium choices this has to be a real consideration for being among the best. Producing masses of large, saucer-shaped flowers of pure deep blue, streaked with purple veins that lead to a white eye. A reliable and tireless flowerer throughout the summer from May to September. Planted in the border, it will happily use surrounding plants for a little support for its long stems, producing a pleasing, cottage-garden appearance to planting. H 70cm.
6. Geranium x oxonianum 'Lace Time'
Exceptionally long flowering throughout the summer right through to the autumn, the elaborately patterned, rose-veined flowers are funnel-shaped, and charmingly change from almost white to pink as they age. A spreading, trailing habit which is at home in the border or grown in pots and containers. I grow this in a hay rack from which a profusion of flowers tumbles for many months of the year. Full sun to partial shade. 35cm.
7. Geranium nodosum ‘Silverwood’
Otherwise known as the Knotted Cranesbill, the beautiful white flowers are set against a backdrop of bright, glossy green foliage. Happy in dry shade once roots are firmly established. A great choice for lifting dark dry corners, where it will happily make great ground cover. Flowers May to September. H 30cm.
8. Geranium pratense ‘Striatum’ (Splish Splash)
From the traditional Meadow Cranesbill comes this real head-turner, its white petals are splashed with varying amounts of lavender-blue flecks and streaks. No two flowers are ever the same. The finely cut, filigree leaves form an attractive mound. Like all Meadow Cranesbills it enjoys full sun and a well-drained soil that isn’t too dry. H 60cm.
9. Geranium ‘Dusky Crûg'
A lovely little geranium that flowers continuously from May to October. Its compact size makes it ideal for growing in pots and tubs or at the front of the border. The neatly formed clumps of small bronze coloured leaves are a wonderful backdrop to the dainty, pale pink flowers with deeper veins. Tolerant of any aspect, though perhaps happiest with a mixture of sun and shade. H 20cm.