A fun bunch of perennials
True geraniums? Aren’t those smelly yet showy annuals we buy and pot every year “true” geraniums? Well, not really. We call them zonal geraniums, and they are pelargoniums. No big deal. It’s all just names and terms. The term “true geranium” is simply applied to perennial geraniums, a practical flower for our higher altitude gardens.Perennial geraniums do exceptionally well in our conditions. In full sun some varieties flower through much of the season. Some types perform better in part shade. Others are fine in full sun. Part shade extends the flowering period of some, and reduces water needs. Some varieties have an earlier or shorter flowering period. Many have nice fall color. Check tags or other resources for information. There are so many varieties, and they are truly a fun group of perennials to work with.Varieties on the market vary in color, size and bloom period. Each has a role. There is ample information on the Internet and in catalogs, and really worth checking out.Given our season, many consider bloom period to be the priority. There are some reliable varieties in use, including the top choice “Johnson’s Blue” and pink “Claridge Druce.” Native geranium viscosissimum fits right in. These are larger plants. Given the good choice of colors, you might want to try the smaller varieties.Many geraniums are considered ground covers, spreading at a moderate rate, mounding larger to their full height. They are not aggressive (around here), and seedlings don’t seem to be a problem. The occasional seedlings are valuable. Divisions are worth the effort as they become large enough.While perennial geraniums aren’t low water plants, they just need their minimum depending on type. They are trouble free, and are even interesting when they go to seed, with their characteristic cranesbill-shaped seed pods (hence their common name, “cranesbill”).Perennial geraniums make sense for a few reasons. They fit right into gardens as attractive space fillers. They aren’t really a center stage flower, but they are perfect companions for showier and more upright garden features. Most have a neat mounding effect, often wider than they are tall.Many function as shapely (and colorful) ground covers without spreading aggressively. There are also some smaller types that work well in the border. As geranium types vary greatly in size, find something that will fit as it matures.Once you know what they look like, you’ll spot them here and there around the valley. You can get an idea as to how they grow. The popular varieties are easily identifiable. There is just a handful of the more prevalent types. ‘Johnson’s Blue’, ‘Claridge Druce’, and ‘Ann Folkard’ are among widely used geraniums. Each is distinct, and easy to identify.The much larger selection that is available tends to be used more as specialty and feature plants. This need not be the case, as a number of varieties grow quite well here.Some perennial geraniums tend to look a little ratty after they are done flowering, but the foliage turns around and provides bright scatterings of fall reds, oranges, and purples depending on variety. Better to not cut them back. When shopping for geraniums, be sure and find out if the variety provides fall color.For a foundation garden perennial, geraniums are a good choice, and worth learning more about. There is ample information on the Internet, in the libraries, and in catalogs. And if you haven’t already, definitely give them a try in your gardens.M.G. Gallagher writes a column on gardening and landscaping for the Daily.