Spring performers

One of the major players in our gardens is the hardy geranium with its gaping, saucer-shaped flowers heavily veined in order to guide the thirsty bee to the vital nectar and pollen.There are varieties galore and it’s quite possible to have hardy geranium or cranesbills in flower from March until October in shades of pink, white, blue and rich magenta. Some will curtsey at the front of a border, others ramble and scramble, whilst some carpet the border edge as neatly as any alpine. Should you want to cut them back at any stage, they respond quickly and put out fresh foliage, sometimes followed by more flower, all in the space of a fortnight. No wonder the versatile hardy geranium is universally popular with the gardener.

'Sabani Blue’ is grown for its heavily veined violet flowers and soft grey-green foliage. Once summer arrives, this hardy geranium will disappear underground, so this is probably best in a spring border. Pull the colour of the red veins out by using a classy April-flowering tulip such as Tulipa 'Couleur Cardinal’. Or use a fresh combination of blue and yellow with lemon wallflowers or a pallid lemon narcissus to make the blue even more vibrant.

The wilder areas of the garden are perfect for the upright spring-flowering Geranium phaeum, a shade-loving delicate cranesbill with small reflexed flowers and attractive foliage. The pure white form ‘Album’ is very fresh and cool having light green leaves that blend well with ferns that might include the stunning black bristled Dryopteris wallichiana. There are also sultry forms with chocolate zoned foliage including ‘Samobor’ which bears dark maroon flowers with lighter centres.

The lovely ‘Lily Lovell’ shares moonlit shades of mauve and silver and stands out well in shady corners. All self seed, which is a bonus in large woodland borders, but do cut them back after flowering if seedlings could be a worry.

Geranium macrorrhizum is another spring-flowering geranium - but this one sprawls and flops. It’s a wonderful thing lolling over a wall, or planted in the depths of a woodland border where it can cover bare ground without smothering anything. The pungent foliage and full magenta flowers of ‘Bevan’s Variety’ are made for carpeting apple blossom. However they make a good addition to shadier areas because they flower in May extending the hellebores and bulbs. ‘White Ness’ is a compact white form with good bright green foliage.

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