Blooming fabulous
Monday, 30 November -0001

Blooming fabulous

As gardens go through a growth spurt, our columnist’s geraniums are exploding into life

Written by Sarah Langton-Lockton

At this stage of the summer the garden is looking distinctly overgrown, and I am reminded of all the pruning, division of perennials, and plant moving as a last resort, that will be required before order can be reinstated at the end of the growing season.

Like many gardeners nowadays, I like to have structure and symmetry, both in the hard landscaping, and the positioning of trees and the taller shrubs, with luxuriant growth from herbaceous perennials billowing over the edges of beds and on to paths. Mowing my minute lawn requires two people as the season progresses, one to push the mower, and the second to hold up plants that, however much I stake, are flopping over the grass and would otherwise be shredded.

The worst offenders are the geraniums – not the traditional summer bedding sort, but the hardy perennial geraniums, commonly known as cranesbills, that are the perfect border plant, flowering all summer, and happy in all types of soil, and in shade, partial shade and full sun. The only condition that will stop them in their tracks is a water-logged soil. It’s a very accommodating genus, with a plant for all tastes – there are more than 400 geranium species and there are thousands of cultivars.

My favourite species is Geranium phaeum, known as the ‘mourning widow’, perhaps because of its dark purple flowers, the nearest thing there is to black in the wildfl ower world, or because it is often found naturalised in from the meadows and woodland margins of the mountains of central and southern Europe, but is at home in Britain, preferring damp, partially shaded spots and seeding freely. It has a gentle way of growing through and around other plants, and is never a thug.

In my garden it flowers early, from mid-April, and associates beautifully with euphorbias, irises and the fresh green foliage of Magnolia stellata ‘Waterlily’. After flowering, Geranium phaeum needs to be cut back to encourage a fresh flush of flowers in late summer.

The delicate little flowers with their white eyes are held erect on tall stems above the divided and lobed leaves. They do not last long in water, but I regularly add them to posies for the bedside table when people come to stay, and often have some on my desk. Geranium phaeum is highly variable as a genus, both in nature and in garden forms, and leaves can be a uniform green or blotched with brown or maroon.

The best-known of the cultivars with coloured leaves is probably G. phaeum var. phaeum ‘Samobor’. This was found in Croatia in 1990 and quickly became a garden favourite.

One I don’t have yet, but crave, is G. phaeum ‘Blue Shadow’, as its name implies, a perfect dusky blue, and then there’s ‘Stillingfleet Ghost’, a wonderfully pallid grey.

And while we’re on the topic of cranesbills, there is another member of the family that is creeping into my affections, that busy little coloniser, herb Robert, a native cranesbill, G. robertianum. I have noticed it in several of the currently fashionable plantings, which mix wildflowers with garden plants.

Herb Robert doesn’t run, but selfseeds everywhere. It creeps into my garden from the untended plots on either side, and pops up wherever there is an inch or two of earth. I admire its prettiness and energy, and let plants linger a while before pulling them out.


 Concept of hop

A concept for hope and recovery

This was a striking conceptual garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, a first show garden by Matthew Childs, who gave up a career in advertising to retrain as a garden designer after he was badly injured in the 7 July 2005 bombing at Edgware Road.

The entrance to the garden was through a rough concrete wall into a tunnel clad with wood and metal. There was little light, and the plants included ferns and mosses. As the covering of the tunnel became lighter, the mosses gave way to gypsophila, alchemilla mollis, grasses and astrantia. Visitors then emerged into the light in a glade of silver birches, underplanted with Gypsophila paniculata ‘Bristol Fairy’ and the tall, deep blue spikes of Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’.

The theme of the garden was hope and recovery following trauma. For Matthew Childs, the garden marks the end of one chapter, and a new start. It was quite simple but emotive, and beautifully done.

For more details:


 Plant of the week

Plant of the week

Trachelospermum jasminoides (star jasmine) is a highly scented slow climber for a warm wall. Its evergreen leaves and star-shaped white fl owers bring glamour to courtyards and city gardens. Height and spread: 9mx3m, but it can be pruned to fi t the space available – it was much in evidence at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

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