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Geraniums for city gardens – not simply red

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Geraniums, as the archetypal city flowers, are ubiquitous in municipal planters and in town house window boxes. A hardy geranium was even the Plant of the Centenary at Chelsea this year.

Here Liz Sims of Vernon Geranium Nursery encourages you to extend your geranium repertoire to include some recent successes and some historic survivors.

Tender geraniums – pelargoniums

Tender geraniums are the perfect plants to pack your containers with on a city balcony or patio and in window boxes for a bright, colourful show all summer long. They are so rewarding for busy gardeners, being very low maintenance, easy to grow and they flower over such a long period with very little attention needed … perfect!

The thought of a geranium often brings to mind the usual red geranium that we see growing en-masse in parks and gardens around the city and red ‘Guardsman’ geraniums are even the favourite plants grown each year in the beds outside Buckingham Palace … but the geranium family offers far more exciting variations than red flowering ones!

Heaven Scent

Scented leaf geraniums have wonderful aromas and are superb grown both indoors and out.  Lemon, orange, cedar, pine, nutmeg and spicy fruity aromas are all available.  As well as perfume, these geraniums have fabulous foliage and many have brightly- colourful flowers to enjoy too.

My particular recommendations are ‘Lemon Fizz’, ‘Angel’s Perfume’, ‘Sweet Mimosa’ and ‘Attar of Roses’ – this latter originating in 1900. In the past, it was just such varieties which would have contributed to the containers of mixed scented geraniums which were often sited near entrances and exits so that the clothes of visitors would brush the plants and release the aroma into the air.

Attar of Roses and Angel's Perfume

Attar of Roses and Angel’s Perfume

Fancy free

Another variety to try is the fancy leaf or zonal geraniums … so called because of the gorgeous variation in leaf colours that they have – including shades of red, yellow, silver, gold and bronze. In the Victorian period these were the geraniums used for fantastic bedding displays. A particular favourite is ‘Mrs Pollock’ which originated in 1858 and has leaves with red, green and gold in clearly marked zones along with bright brick red flowers! Other beauties I’d recommend are ‘Happy Thought’, ‘Caroline Schmidt’ and ‘Frank Headley’.

Mrs Pollock and Caroline Schmidt

Mrs Pollock and Caroline Schmidt

Trailing types

Trailing ivy leaf geraniums are perfect for window boxes and again, low maintenance. The Decora cascading type of geranium also never fails to put on a splendid show. Available in red, pink, lavender or white they can be grown in individual colours or mixed together.

How to grow tender geraniums

Geraniums are very easy to grow and simply need to be planted into general purpose compost with some fertiliser added and then grown somewhere warm and sunny, although they don’t need full sun all day long. The plants can go outside from late May onwards and will need to be brought in from the first frosts, which is usually late September time. You can grow geraniums indoors on a sunny windowsill and they make ideal houseplants to enjoy through the colder months. If you have a conservatory geraniums are the perfect housemates to share that space with! They prefer to be kept on the dry side so they don’t demand much of your time in watering them. All they’ll need otherwise is a bit of deadheading once the flowers go over – this will spur them on to send up many more flowers to enjoy.

Hardy geraniums

Hardy geraniums are amongst my favourite plants. They meet everything we want being easy to grow, low maintenance, in summer they burst with flowers and their foliage spreads to form great ground cover so they also cut down on weeds. This geranium is super in containers dotted around the patio or balcony and being fully hardy can stay out all year and  will give endless colour year after year

Here are some recommended varieties to grow.

 Hardy Geranium ‘Rozanne’: The RHS Plant of the Centenary

Rozanne

Rozanne

A shortlist of the ten best plants launched at Chelsea since it began in 1913 -one for each decade- was drawn up by a panel of RHS experts using archives from the RHS Linley Library. 7000 people then voted for their favourite and ‘Rozanne’, named after Rozanne Waterer who discovered this variety with her husband Donald in their garden in Somerset, was chosen as Plant of the Centenary.

Launched at Chelsea in the year 2000, Rozanne has a very long flowering season.

Other fabulous hardy geraniums to enjoy in your city garden are …

Something blue

Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake

Probably the most famous hardy geranium is ‘Johnson’s Blue’ – an old variety which has the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit.

Other blues to try are ‘Midnight Blue’ which has deeply cut purple-toned foliage and flowers which are open and a pale shade of blue and one of my absolute favourites- ‘Buxton’s Blue’ which has open saucer-shaped flowers in opal blue and is a really striking variety. There is also ‘Crystal Lake’ which has very vibrant lavender blooms which shine out in borders.

Double take

Double hardy geraniums are quite a rare thing- here are some delightful pink-flowered examples to try:

‘Double Jewel’ has bright double flowers of very pale pink with deeper rose centres.

‘Southcombe Double’ has fluffy pink flowers to brighten up borders in the summer months.

‘Birch Double’ has purple- pink flowers and super foliage which turns to shades of burnt red in the autumn.

And for other colours -‘Plenum Violaceum’  has violet- blue blooms which flush purple in summer– this variety also has the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit and then there are  the pure white double blooms of ‘Laura’

Double Jewel and Southcombe Double

Double Jewel and Southcombe Double

How to grow hardy geraniums

Hardy geraniums are easy to care for. If you order them via mail order then these can be delivered as bare roots for easy growing. Upon receipt you simply pop them in a pot and lightly cover with a little compost and in three to four weeks you’ll start to see lovely fresh growth coming through. Pot them into a general purpose compost – they don’t need any special soils. Keep them somewhere warm and light through the winter months – out of frosts for their first winter. Once they are well established plant them out in May in their position and that’s about it! They’ll just need a light trimming once a year to keep them tidy.

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