Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Geraniums: There’s nothing more versatile for gardeners

There is so much on offer for the greenhouse grower that it can be very difficult for them to narrow down their choices and focus on just a few plants to really commit to.

Indeed, this is more of an issue for green-fingered enthusiasts and gardening professionals who take advantage of a controlled space like a greenhouse than it is for any other gardener.

This is because – thanks to the relative protection from the outdoor environment greenhouses offer – the individual has a much greater degree of flexibility when it comes to growing certain plants out of the season that they are typically associated with.

However, there are some plants that are absolute staples and a must-have for any self-respecting gardener – and it could be argued that geraniums are the top of the heap in this respect.

Geranium refers to a genus of no fewer than 422 different species of flowering plant – taking in various kinds of annual, biennial and perennial. In some areas, they are more commonly referred to as cranesbill, in reference to the capsule-like fruit that is produced by some types. Indeed, the name 'geranium' is derived from the Greek word for 'crane'.

Some confusion can arise from the fact that geranium is also the name for an unrelated genus of plants called pelargonium. Therefore, the species that is properly referred to as geranium is sometimes distinguished by the term 'hardy geranium'.

Despite this, further issues can come about due to the fact that not all geraniums are hardy enough to survive the tough winter climates. One of the most obviously distinctive characteristics that identifies either species is the shape. Geraniums usually have five very similar petals, which gives them a distinctively symmetrical appearance.

Conversely, pelargonium flowers have two upper petals and three lower petals – all of which are very different from one another aesthetically.

Organic gardener and author of The Allotment Keeper's Handbook Jane Perrone singled out geranium hardy doubles as a great example of the plant. In an article for UK national newspaper the Guardian, she noted that the flowers can bloom in pink, purple, mauve-pink and white, which means that they are able to complement most color schemes.

The expert went so far as to describe the plants as "the gardener's sticky tape". She explained that this is because they are relatively undemanding and can cover a lot of ground when it comes to holding together borders. This can make them ideal for punctuating the space between much taller and more dramatic plants – as well as popping up out of bare soil.

"Each plant should reach an eventual height and spread of 90 cm by 60 cm," Ms Perrone remarked, adding that more work may be required in summer.

"Plants may start to look lacklustre in midsummer," she commented, advising: "Shock them into a fresh flush of growth by cutting back dead flowers and older leaves. Remember that geraniums are herbaceous, so they die back in winter to return in spring."