Friday 8th July 2022

It’s hot. It’s sunny. This is no time to be feeling blue. Summer is well and truly here, and the Dry Garden is coming into its own.

Following a recent G/H trip to Suffolk, which included a visit to the specialist nursery Woottens, Garden House seems to have acquired some new specimens from the Geraniaceae family, prompting a deeper dive into the whole group.

Plant ident.

The Geraniaceae family. It’s a big ‘un. They are all fairly short plants, mainly grown for ornamental purposes. Some have scented leaves. Some (such as Pelargonium graveolens) are grown for oil of geranium, used in making perfumes. Some prefer shady, moist soils, whilst others (e.g. Erodiums) thrive in drier, sunnier conditions. Their flowers have 5 petals and they have long, beak-like seedheads.

Within the family, the three main genera are: Geranium (Cranesbills), Pelargonium (Storksbills) and Erodium (Heronsbills).

Now, let’s get one thing straight from the outset – these (above) are NOT Geraniums. They are Pelargoniums. These are beauteous, tender things which love to be brought outside for the summer months, but must be tucked up and kept sheltered and frost free over the winter. If not treated tenderly, they will die, and serve you right. Low maintenance and very rewarding to grow, these brighten up pots, windowsills and patios over the summer. Many of them have deliciously scented leaves, such as Rose, Lemon, Mint and Balsam. The flowers have 7 stamens and come in a wide variety of colours and hues.

Geraniums, on the other hand, are tough old birds.

These are the Cranesbills. There are loads of these hardy, deciduous, herbaceous perennials, and within the genus there will generally be a choice of plants which are suitable for a tricky situation in the garden – dry shade/ deep, moist shade/ full sun. Planted into borders, they disappear below the ground during the winter months, then fresh foliage will emerge in late spring to grow on and produce flowers from early summer and often through into autumn. They benefit from being cut hard back after flowering, given some organic feed (like Maxicrop) and a good watering, and will then grow away once more, often producing a second crop of flowers later in the season. These flowers have 10 stamens – and come in a wide colour range. Invaluable.

Margery Fish, a doyenne of gardening, was apparently once asked what the secret of gardening was. Her reply? ‘When in doubt, plant a Geranium’!

Erodium (Heronsbills) are generally more petite than their cousins. They are hardy plants, preferring a sheltered position in full sun.

Best in a sharply drained, neutral to acid soil and are ideal for including in alpine gardens or gravel beds, where they make soft mounds of growth. Their leaves often have pretty, scalloped edges. Flowering from April through to September, the flowers have five stamens and come in white, pink, yellow, blue and purple. Enjoy them in a little alpine pan raised up on a table.

Geranium ‘Rozanne’

In Sarah Raven’s view, this is the best of the violet-blue Geraniums for a pot or in a border. Excellent as ground cover, this is a vigorous plant and can become overly enthusiastic, so it’s a prime candidate for cutting back after flowering. Likes a moist soil in partial shade-full sun. Divide clumps in the spring. Attractive to pollinators. A very popular cultivar. A.G.M. Ht 0.75 m

Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’

Vivid magenta flowers are the hallmark of this lovely. Great for combining with golds and darker reds. Its light green-golden foliage is ‘palmately lobed’, according to the R.H.S., which is horticultural-speak for ‘looks like a hand’. Full sun-partial shade. Pollinators? Tick. A.G.M.? Tick. Ht. 0.5 m

Geranium himalayense ‘Derrick Cook’

Which part of the world do you suppose this originates from? Produces masses of purple-veined white flowers in the summer, and its leaves take on red hues in the autumn. Gorgeous. Prefers a moist but well-drained soil; partial shade-sun. Attractive to pollinators. Ht. 0.5m

Erodium malacoides

Lovely violet-magenta flowers form in July. It needs a light (sandy) or medium (loamy) well-drained soil and full sun. Ht 0.5m

Geranium sanguineum

Eye-catching magenta-pink mallow-like flowers characterise this variety, which is also known as Blood-red Cranesbill. The small leaves are deeply cut and palmate. Good for groundcover and also in a rock garden, flowering from late spring to late summer. Drought tolerant, easy to grow and very reliable. Apparently resistant to deer and rabbits. Please do give feedback if you own a deer park. Attracts pollinators and other beneficial insects. Ht. 0.2 m

Jobs for the week

At some point in the academic year, many educational establishments include a Reading Week as part of the curriculum. At the University of Garden House, we have a Weeding Week. This means that we all turn up as usual, armed with sharpened secateurs and gleaming trowels, and spend the best part of one session weeding weeds.

Cries of ‘Out you come!’ and ‘Let’s be ‘avin’ you’ echo round the garden as we heed the need to weed and feed.

It’s not just weeding though. We also engage in the age-old tradition of hacking back. This may look chaotic if not somewhat frenzied, but belies the craftsmanship and hours of training involved in reaching the horticultural heights of hacker-backer.

Hacker-backers in action

Take no prisoners!

Water divining? Whatever next?

Oh. It’s a semi-circular metal support structure. But is it for the garden or the gardener?

Possibly for this gardener

Understandably so. The need for cake comes upon us all at midday

The clearance continues. Removing Lunaria from garden borders

It’s a case of being the best policy for Honesty

Garden House’s very own biological pest control system in action. The headline might be: ‘Snail-Eating Tortoise’.

(Not ‘Snail Eating Tortoise’, which would be a very different picture.)

Nature red in tooth and claw

Back for more nature next week.

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