Continuing our survey of shade garden plants, I present you with the genus Geranium:
Yes, that yellow one IS a tulip, but those pretty pale violet flowers are the subject of today’s blog. The geranium in the above photo is Geranium maculatum, our native Wisconsin beauty, often called wild geranium.
Did you think that geraniums look like this?
Lots of people do. The gardening world– many, many moons ago– decided to confound everybody by making the botanical name of the first plant and the common name of the second plant both “geranium.” Confusing, huh? Those red ones, along with all of their fellows, are actually in the Pelargonium family. They are annuals in Wisconsin, look like snot in the shade, and are not our topic today.
Geraniums for Shade Gardens
So yes, there are red “geraniums” but today we are looking at the perennial geraniums, sometimes called cranesbills. All have beautiful foliage. Some bloom in the spring, some in the summer, some in the fall. Some creep along the ground at 4 inches, while others flop over after they reach heights of 30 inches or more.
Here is a Geranium hiding behind Solomon’s seal. A couple of wee crumb-bums are hiding back there, too
The common name, Cranesbill, comes from the long “bill” formed once the flowers are finished. The bills on most are interesting for a long time after the blooms have finished.
The picture above, from Dave’s Garden, shows both the blooms and the bills.
Geraniums come in many colors from dark carmine pink to purple to blue to white– and every tint in between. They should, however, never be chosen by color, but rather by cultural requirements and bloom time. Although there is a geranium for almost every spot in the Wisconsin garden, not every Geranium will work in every spot.
For example, we recently had to remove dozens of Geraniums from a lakeside garden in Lake Geneva. The homeowners had wanted blue-toned Geraniums, and their original garden designer had sold them 5 flats of Geranium maculatum, a beautiful plant. Unfortunately, it blooms in April and early May—and the homeowners never visit the house before the kids are out of school in June.
Geranium maculatum also tends to look bad when over-watered, and they had a watering system. Further, its foliage fries brown in full sun, which of course they were in. We moved them to another location and planted geranium Jolly Bee, which will thrive under the conditions and bloom non-stop through July and August.
Some Geranium like more sun, some require more moisture, some require pruning to look good.
The scented geraniums, like the Geranium macrorrhizum above, make a perfect shady ground cover here in Wisconsin.
The foliage smells heavenly when you brush up against it or rub it between your fingers. It has a long bloom time, then an interesting time when it is covered in cranesbills. Finally, it has excellent bright red fall color. Also called Bigroot Geranium, Geranium macrorrhizum has magenta flowers. “Ingwersen’s variety” has soft, violet-pink flowers, and retains the great characteristics of the species. A few white cultivars of Geranium macrorrhizum are available, although none is particularly satisfying. One (“Album”) looks kind of dirty, the other (“White Ness”) dies…stick with the pinks! Tomorrow or the next day, I might write about some fine hybrids.
I love the way it turns orange on its way to scarlet, especially when all the colors are showing at the same time. Parti-colored, they call that!
More on geraniums later this week.
An older entry about bloom rotation.
If you want help with your gardens in Lake Geneva or the surrounding area, give us a call at 262/248-7513.
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