Many of my favorite plants aren’t looking like much right now. That’s an understatement, really. Some appear downright horrendous—slimy stems collapsed onto tattered foliage and others, though they may be riding out the weather, have been ravaged by slugs. An exception: Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Bevan’s Variety’.
This evergreen perennial’s fuzzy, medium green leaves still look pristine. Under the shady cover of Douglas firs and Western red hemlocks, my patch of hardy geranium weaves around deciduous and evergreen huckleberry. Since it doesn’t receive much water, it has spread slowly. The lack of sunshine prevents it from blooming but despite its inhospitable location, it thrives. That the slugs and deer ignore it, I owe to the fresh, almost medicinal aroma of the leaves that are coated in fine, short hairs.
When in more sun (it will grow in full sun to full shade), the cerise flowers are quite pretty held above the light green, lobed leaves. Main blooming occurs late spring or early summer, but it can be coaxed into re-blooming with a June trim. I appreciate the prominent red styles and stamens and later, the seed heads whose elongated shape give hardy geraniums their common name: cranesbill. It spreads more rapidly with full sun and reliable moisture but doesn’t survive in soggy soil.
Other G. macrorrhizum cultivars sporting variations in the flower color–paler pinks or white are on the market. The cultivars have similar growth habit of 10 to 12” tall, spreading 2’ in a couple of seasons, depending on growing conditions. All advance via polite rhizomes and make a fine compliment to shrubs and other perennials. With supplemental water, G. macrorrhizum can compete with fibrous tree roots and makes a lovely groundcover. It’s another unsung hero of the plant world that deserves to be more widely known and grown.
For more information on this and other G. macrorrhizum cultivars, visit Great Plant Picks at www.greatplantpicks.org
© Colleen Miko, 2010