There can be some confusion when we talk about geraniums. The brightly colored, large flowered, annual geraniums that grace pots and planters in spring are Pelargoniums also known as zonal geraniums. The mainstay of Germany’s window boxes, they come as upright varieties or the trailing ivy geranium varieties. Since our winters in western Washington can be mild we can often get the zonal geraniums to winter over, but usually they need some protection. There are also the tender scented geranium varieties that are only winter hardy in more tropical climes, unless you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse.
Not so for the hardy Geranium (Cranesbill). A true geranium, when it is planted in the ground they are a hardy perennial, and they look nothing like the Pelargonium plant. According to Sunset’s Western Garden Book, most are hardy in all zones with just one or two specifically hardy to zone 6 and to zone 9. Read the tag and know your zone before you buy. They sport a huge variety of leaf shape, leaf color and flower color too. The variety differences are endless. Some have leaves of deep purple color, some green, some a silver sheen. Some shamelessly seed themselves all over the place while others are very well behaved, slowly spreading and cooperative as we small garden tenders prefer. They are not bothered by any pests in my experience, including slugs and snails. I don’t know about deer, but since they do have an odor it may be worth a try if you and your deer friends have a disagreement over who your garden was planted for.
Over the years I’ve had many hardy Geraniums, but my two favorites are ‘Lily Lovell’ and ‘Mavis Simpson’ because they are well behaved and beautiful.
What a find ‘Lily Lovell’ was, all those years ago. Who knew she would be elusive ever since? Some days are just like that!
In bloom in my garden today: Bergenia ‘Winter Glow’, old fashioned Coral Bells (Heuchera), Tellima (Fringe Cups), Ajuga (Bugleweed), Solomon’s Seal, Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ (Yellow Fawn Lily),Wisteria, Tulipa ‘Gavota’, creeping phlox, Oxalis oregana ‘Wintergreen’, Anemone nemerosa ‘Robinsoniana’, Dodecatheon (Shooting Star), Alpine strawberry, Fritillaria, Primrose, Hellebore, Heather, Clematis, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Wood Hyacinth (Hyacinthoides hispanica)
Top photo ‘Lily Lovell’ courtesy of Patrick Chissus
Other photos by author