In the garden: True geraniums | AspenTimes.com
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In the garden: True geraniums

Anna Naeser
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

There is a glass sitting on the table next to my laptop, holding stems of three different species of hardy, perennial geraniums from my garden. They all have medium green, deeply lobed, divided, and veined leaves. They all have beaked seed capsules like a crane’s bill, hence the eponymous family name Geraniaceae, from the Greek geranos, meaning crane.

The first stem is from Geranium sanguineum, whose abundant foliage flows softly over ripening bulbs and around late blooming perennials, rhubarb, and poppies. In the dappled shade of a chokecherry, its single red-violet flowers shine. It blooms for months but when flow progresses to flop, I cut the leggy stems down to basal leaves and soon the plant will fill out again, looking good until the foliage is burnished with autumnal red.

The stem with the biggest flowers, the size of a half-dollar coin, but with smaller even more finely divided leaves, is Geranium sanguineum variety lancastriense. The lamplight highlights details I might otherwise not notice, like the tiny hairs perpendicular to the stem and leaf surfaces, and red striations on the stems and petioles. Lancastriense foliage hugs sloping ground as though it were being unrolled, studded with saucers of pale pink flowers whiskered with delicate cerise lines radiating from cerise stamens. It has infiltrated its neighbors, contrasting with narrow gray leafed, white flowering snow-in-summer, and glossy dark green cotoneaster, while blurring the boundaries between them. Where does the geranium end and the cotoneaster begin?

There is admittedly a fine line between infiltrating and encroaching. Individual gardeners have varying degrees of tolerance for encroaching. Mine is high but I won’t hesitate to pull back the geranium if it threatens to overpower adjacent plants. This geranium has great fall color too.

My third stem is much longer than the others, the lobed leaves are more rounded, and the flowers are in pairs of tiny magenta cups. My Geranium pyrenaicum cutting was a gift last year, and it came with a caveat: This is a terrible, if pretty, weed! I stuck it in a half-barrel that doesn’t drain as well as it should, with other orphans. It has grown into a clump and has been blooming its head off since April, a cloud of magenta above a spray of green foliage. I may regret letting it into my garden.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking about all the geraniums I haven’t tried yet and wondering if I could manage to grow some of the wild geraniums native to Colorado.


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