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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Geranium Psilostemon, the Species, is a Traffic Stopping, Weed-Smothering Perennial

The exotic-looking Geranium psilostemon first attracted my attention when I saw it, years ago, used repeatedly in the photo illustrations of Tony Lord’s book, Best Borders. Its flower, a bold shade of fuchsia pink, with a riveting black center eye, was staged in several eye-catching perennial combinations. Those images became an inspiration to hunt for what became an elusive perennial, because no nursery in my area had ever heard of it.

Thinking back to my college years when information came only from print sources, I began to search for it in gardening catalogues, a process that took several years. From those publications, I learned that the most interesting perennials were also the least known and rarely used. Upscale mail order houses, catering to discriminating gardeners, defined themselves by offering plants that were out of the ordinary. It was among the glossy pages of a lushly illustrated catalogue, that I found my special Geranium  priced to reflect the luxuriousness of the publication. By the time I located the supplier, acquiring the plant had become such an obsession that its high cost was not a deterrent.

After recklessly purchasing this outrageously priced perennial, and finally adding it to my flowerbed,  I noticed that the sharp black center eye, so prominent in print, was slightly less powerful in a real and unstaged setting; I cannot reproduce that intense blackness with my digital camera. Another surprise was the realization that it is a monstrous, sprawling, climber and groundcover. Weeds cannot survive in its dense, smothering path. No wonder no nursery sold it. Urban gardeners cannot consider it unless they mentally prepare themselves and physically arrange the garden so that the plant is free to consume the entire flowerbed.

As one can see in the long view above, my psilostemon, placed at the back of the border as a weed suppressant, has climbed up a four-foot fence and spread across a flowerbed six feet deep. Moreover, did I mention that this is the sixth generation of the original that I once planted? The polite aggressiveness of this perennial [it maintains a clump-like composure at its base], allowed me to lift and transplant it many times until I found an appropriate spot for it to perform. In addition, with every transplanting, a few small clumps would fall away from the mother plant but, other than my own flowerbeds, I could not find a home for them. No gardener that I knew could handle such a formidable plant.

About 15 years after acquiring this gentle giant, several local nurseries introduced a variety of the species called Patricia. The new G. psilostemon, has the same intense pink color and black center. However, the breeders were unable to eliminate the sprawl because Patricia’s messiness and spread is only 50% less than the species. That is still too much for the urban gardener.

Although, I planted a few Patricias in clients' flowerbeds, within a year I was asked to remove them. No homeowner was able to deal with the overpowering presence of this dramatic Geranium. In my own garden, I continue to derive pleasure from the original, awesome species. In spite of its chaotic personality, the intense color makes me happy, [especially when combined with blues or lemon yellows], and its long blooming period is a delight.

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Reader Comments (5)

I have Rozanne and it even sprawls a little two much, climbing over and covering other plantings.

I put a new one in this year called Blue Sunshine with a yellow green leaf and blue flowers. It was suggested to interplant with roses and so far winds its way politely through other plantings.


July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGatsbys Gardens

Allan, This is very helpful information. I first learned about 'Patricia' from you, and I'm planning to add it to my new flower bed. I don't mind the sprawly habit of many geraniums, and I'm planning to plant this behind G x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo', another plant bent on world domination. It will be interesting to see how that particular contest works out. :-)

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Growers also suggested planting Rozanne among the roses. Little did they know.....
I'll bet the advice was formulated long before botanists allowed their geraniums to mature.

July 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterAllan

I love aggressive perennials! Perhaps because they're obnoxious like me ;) I've spent too much time babying precious plants that I had to have. I'm starting to think twice about any plants that require me for life support. I should give this one a try. We have a hard time with Geraniums in the mid-Atlantic. They don't like the heat and humidty. The G. macrorrhizums seem to work the best, but even those have limitations. Love the dark throat on this plant. Thanks for the recommendation. Always learn new things about plants here. Thomas

July 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThomas Rainer

It is strange that you paid a high price for Geranium psilostemon as it is easily grown from seed, which is available. It is not an aggressive plant, as it does not run at the root. It is rather just a large perennial. Cutting back after flowering, is all that is needed to keep it tidy. Its main drawback is that it is not particularly long flowering - unlike one of its offspring, the very long flowering, and sprawling, Geranium "Anne Folkard" - which is much superior.

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Lord

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