True blue, rare in flowers, is easily obtainable in bog sage

Jimmy Williams

We’ll reach the cusp of August next week. Summer will turn the corner, so it is said.

Maybe it does on the upper peninsula of Michigan or in the Rocky Mountains. Here in the torrid belt of the South, we might get a “cool” snap before the month is over, but don’t count on it.

So, how’s your geranium on the porch doing? If you say it is garlanded with flowers, or even if it isn’t, I must tell you it is not a geranium at all.

Yes, I know, people have called the annual geraniums by that name for centuries, but that doesn’t make it right. The potted plants we grow for summer are actually pelargoniums, not geraniums.

And, yes, I know that no less an authority than Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern plant taxonomy, said your “geraniums” actually were geraniums.

A century or so later, other taxonomists moved the annual ones into the genus pelargonium and tabbed them Pelargonium x hortorum, and so they have been since.

Somehow, the wrong name has survived 300 years. Ninety percent of gardeners would not know a “true” geranium if they saw one. 

I am here to tell you that a true geranium (no quotes this time) is one of the best perennials you could cultivate in your beds and borders.

I have several species and varieties of true geraniums in our garden. Most of them are creeping plants to about a foot tall with flowers in the blue to pink range.

When fronted by another, taller plant, they will inveigle themselves to perhaps two feet or so. The best feature of many of them, however, is their longevity of flowering.

I have one specimen as we speak that started into flower back in April and still sports a few blooms. 

That long bloomer is Geranium sanguineum ‘Striatum,’ the latter varietal name indicating the pink flowers have little red streaks (“striated”) in all the blooms. Those flowers are some one inch across.

The straight species is closer to magenta than the variety here noted. My several clumps of this plant have been around for 20 years or more and divided into more and more over the years. There is a white variety of this, but I have found it not as vigorous. 

Another geranium that has been good for me is ‘Biokovo,’ also a pale pink bordering on white. The plant is not as adventurous as the first mentioned, but also blooms a long time. 

At the north end of our rock-wall border is a purple geranium that I planted some years ago. It has, in some years, spanned six feet or more and more than two feet tall.

It is covered for about two months in late spring with truly purple flowers at least two inches across. Though it is more vigorous than the others mentioned, it is never a problem.

It drapes itself over neighbors in a friendly fashion. I thought it was the variety ‘Rozanne,’ but I have never seen that one grow so large. 

We have several more varieties of these true geraniums, and virtually all have proven their mettle in the rough and tumble of border life. 

Another valuable point of these geraniums is that most of them hold good foliage until late fall, when it turns red.

One reason that geraniums are confused with pelargoniums is their seed pods. They look like the beaks of cranes and thus are called “cranesbills” in some locales. 

 

JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.

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