Get out the dark glasses – Geranium psilostemon has the most uncompromising colour of any cranesbill. it has masses of flowers that are, well, screaming magenta, but it is nothing like as gaudy as you might think and it never overwhelms, the wonderful dark eye in each flower tones down the effect and the flowers themselves are scattered over its lush green foliage.
Although highly-bred flowers can often be visually a little over the top, this wildflower, commonly known as the Armenian crane's-bill, looks just as it would in the lush valleys of its home in the Caucasus. It thrives in both full sun and light shade and is one of the few herbaceous perennials that can be grown in rough grass; the late Christopher Lloyd did so successfully at Great Dixter. It can also be planted alongside native vegetation in light shade.
Geranium psilostemon forms a nice neat hemisphere of growth, steadily expanding until it flowers in mid-June. Usefully, this is later than most of the pink-flowered cranesbills and, while it does not flower again in September, it has a good long season, often until August. It has several advantages over the more common pink cranesbills, it is less likely to collapse in an untidy heap after flowering and, while large, does not spread as vigorously and does not need a big border. And it does not scatter aggressive little seedlings all over the place.
It benefits from fertile, moist well-drained soil. It will grow in poor soils, but will not become so large and long-flowering. The plant’s stature largely depends on the soil, on dry sand it grows to 60cm (2ft), but in a rich moist garden soil it will grow to 1m (3ft) high and wide.
It works well with pale blues and the yellow-greens such as those that occur in later-flowering euphorbias. These colours are truly complementary; each has a vibrancy in the presence of the other that it lacks alone.
Given that Geranium psilostemon usually stays tidy after flowering, few gardeners will see the need to support it with pea sticks and/or cut it back after flowering, as they would with other cranesbills. The attractive foliage that turns red in autumn and cutting back and composting the dead foliage in winter is the only upkeep it needs. Like nearly all members of the geranium genus, it is very long-lived.
The Royal Horticultural Society gave Geranium psilostemon their prestigious Award of Garden Merit in 1993.
Sowing: Sow in late winter/late spring or in late summer/autumn.
Fill pots, cells of trays with a good seed starting compost. (John Innes or similar). Sit the containers in water to moisten thoroughly. Sow the seeds 2.5cm (1in) apart, on the surface of the compost and cover seed with vermiculite, sand or sieved compost after sowing. Keep soil slightly moist but not wet. Perennial geraniums often germinate over several months, usually between 30 to 90 days at temperatures around 5 to 10°C (41 to 50°F). Seed trays should not be discarded prematurely. Constant moisture must be maintained. Do not leave in direct sunlight.
Transplant the seedlings into 7.5cm (3in) pots to grow on. Avoid large pots, because the compost will be wet permanently and wetness can a cause growth inhibition and a poor root development.
Overwinter autumn sown seedlings indoors frost free at 3 to 5 °C (37 to 41°F). If outdoors use an outdoor fleece cover to protect the plants.
Plant outdoors in spring after the last expected frosts. Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out into their permanent positions. Space 30 to 40cm (12 to 15in) apart.
In mid summer after flowering rejuvenate plants that are beginning to look jaded by shearing it back, this will promote dense growth and encourage better reblooming. Lift and divide large colonies in spring, March to May
Low-moderate fertilisation levels are required use a complete balanced fertiliser. Avoid high ammonium and high nitrogen levels. Very high nitrogen levels will cause shoot stretching and then the shoots fall apart. Don't fertilise after mid September.
The roots are sensitive to wet substrates which can cause rotting of roots and poor plant quality. Allow for the plants to dry thoroughly between irrigations.
Cottage/Informal Garden, Flowers Borders and Beds, Wildlife / Butterfly Garden. Beekeeping.
Full sun to partial shady locations. Rock gardens, stone walls, perennial borders, ground cover, large containers.
Geranium is a genus of 422 species of flowering annual, biennial, and perennial plants, found throughout the temperate regions of the world and the mountains of the tropics, but mostly in the eastern part of the Mediterranean region.
The species Geranium psilostemon has been introduced to Britain many times from its origin in Eastern Europe, the southwestern Caucasus and certain areas in Asia, including Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and parts of Russia.
The genus name Geranium comes from the Greek geranion, which is a diminutive of 'geranos' meaning crane.
The species name psilostemon was published by Ledebour in 1842 and means 'with bare stamens', ie hairless stamens, so following the tradition of naming plants by their most noticeable feature.
Many gardeners make a tongue-twister of this name, but it merely uses a silent p, like psychiatrist.
Some nurseries insisted on using the incorrect name Geranium armenum published by Boissier in 1867, well into the twentieth century, and some plants may well still be labeled as this, not surprising, really, considering that for more than two hundred years, the name 'Geranium' is still incorrectly applied to Pelargoniums in some garden centres and seed catalogues.
The geranium gets its common name 'crane’s bill' from the 'beak' over the seed pod and is also called 'storksbill' in some areas. The name 'crowfoot' is often used for geraniums, because the leaves resemble buttercups, which historically were called crowfoots.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 10 Seeds Family Geraniaceae Genus Geranium Species psilostemon Synonym Geranium armenum. Common Name Armenian crane's-bill Hardiness Hardy Perennial Hardy Hardy to -15°C (5°F) Flowers Magenta flowers with a black eye and purple-black veins. Natural Flower Time May to August Foliage Mid green, evergreen rounded leaves. Height to 100cm (36in) Spread to 100cm (36in) Position Full sun to part shade. Soil Moist, well drained soil Time to Sow Sow in late winter/late spring or in late summer/autumn. Germination 30 to 90 days at temperatures around 5 to 10°C (41 to 50°F).