Geraniums are among the most popular of garden plants and it is easy to understand why. They are versatile, easy to please and excellent performers. It is easy to find cultivars which will suit sun or shade, those for border display and others for ground cover under shrubs and trees.


Robin Parer is the owner of “Geraniaceae”, a mail-order nursery in California and specialises in geraniums with, at last count, 398 varieties on offer. She is the author of “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Hardy Geraniums”, one of twelve titles in the series of Plant Lover’s Guides published by Timber Press. This is the ninth of the series that I have read and it is a testimony to the design, editing and production standards that it appears as fresh and as interesting an approach to a plant genus as the first I read.

Geranium 'Rozanne'
Geranium ‘Rozanne’ regarded as the best perennial plant of the century!

As with others in the series, there are three introductory chapters, “Why I love Geraniums”, “Designing with Hardy Geraniums” and “Understanding Hardy Geraniums” before we get to the core of the book which is a selection of the very best and most suitable geraniums for our gardens. Every gardener seems to love viewing good plant photographs, reading of the plants and wondering if there is a place in the garden which would be perfect for it – the perfect fit of plant and conditions.

Geum 'Tai Mai' with Geranium 'Splish Splash'
Geranium ‘Splish Splash’ with Geum ‘Mai Tai’
Dianthus with Geranium sanguineum
Geranium cinerium with dianthus in the foreground

Robin Parer’s treatment of this selection divides into a number of categories, something probably unnecessary given the versatility of geraniums in the garden, but here it is used to highlight some aspect of each group so as to make our perusal all the more interesting. However, with the exception of the more demanding alpine species and those tender to our climate – which are quite few in numbers – the vast majority of the geraniums described are amenable to general planting in our gardens.

Geranium 'Mrs Kendall Clarke'  (2)
Geranium ‘Mrs. Kendall  Clarke’

A total of 140 hardy geraniums are beautifully illustrated, described succinctly, accurately and informatively and will lead the avid gardener to seek out more varieties for their own use. For example, I have a bed in the garden about 30 metres X 4 metres which has a line of mature ash trees running along the boundary behind it. It is an excellent bed for spring plants and I have snowdrops there in large drifts. Finding a plant which will grow over snowdrops without choking them is a challenge in itself so there is a great delight to find a geranium that will do this, will flower well, can be propagated easily and will thrive in the deep shade and arid conditions that the ash trees create. Geraniuim x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ (white flowers)has performed that task perfectly for over ten years and three years ago I added Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Karmina’ (pink flowers) to the planting. I came on Geranium x cantabrigense ‘Cambridge'(a lighter pink) only a fortnight ago but, with the help of this book, I now have another selection I can seek out – with eleven cultivars of this cross described. This is just one example of the wealth of information in the book and why it will be so useful to the gardener.

Geranium cantabrigense 'Biokovo'
Geranium x cantabrigense ‘Biokovo’ – a perfect plant as groundcover over spring bulbs in dry shade

A later section of the book deals with “Growing and Propagating” – excellent information –  while there is also information on where one might buy or see plants along with other minor offerings in the appendices.

Each of the books in this series has been a joy to read and likely to be a standby reference book for many years to come with abundant material for the enthusiast as much as for the beginner. A success!

Geranium nodosum ex Frances McDonald
Geranium nodosum which thrives in shade

Oh, by the way, the term “hardy geranium” seems to be gaining in usage as the confusion between “geranium”, the garden plant, and “pelargonium”, the house geranium, continues with some!

[The Plant Lover’s Guide to Hardy Geraniums, Robin Parer, Timber Press, Portland Oregon, 2016, Hardback, 272 pages, £17.99, ISBN: 978-1-60469-418-5] 

Paddy Tobin

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