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Entries in geranium psilostemon (2)


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.


The Gigantic Geranium, a Very Reliable Perennial

Of all the perennials that grow in my garden, Geranium Psilostemon, or Armenian Cranesbill, is my favorite. If ever I should move from my present home, this is the one plant I will dig up and take with me.

I first noticed this majestic perennial in the book “Antique Flowers: Perennials” by Rob Proctor. It caught my attention for two reasons. Firstly, I was on a hunt for intensely colored pink plants. Secondly, its vibrant black eyes gave it an iridescence not normally seen in perennials. It just popped off the page.There are two great pictures of it in ”Best Borders” by Tony Lord while in Penelope Hobson’s book ”Flower Gardens”, it appears no less than three times:

None of the nurseries in my area sold the plant but I was fortunate to find it online. In the first season in my garden it did not reach the spectacular growth seen in the books. However, the color was true to the photographs. It's an intense magenta pink rarely seen in perennials and the black eyes popped out at me from my garden just as they did in the books. By year two, its growth was impressive and by the third year, it was awesome, reaching three feet high and two and a half feet wide.

If allowed to flop over, this large geranium makes an unusual and tall ground cover. It does not spread rampantly and nothing can penetrate its foliage. However, when staked to grow upright, it gives new meaning to the term “wow factor”. Unlike other geraniums that last for a few weeks, this one blooms for two months.

If there is empty space in my flower beds, the geranium will self-seed there; but not aggressively. Over the years I have found many welcome offspring that transplant easily. I use them as gifts to my clients. It gives their gardens an exclusive look while making a bold statement. Whenever I require more plants than were self seeded, I split the roots of the mother plant in September and replant on the spot. The mature leaves wither immediately from shock, but by the end of October, new shoots appear from the neck of the new plant to confirm that the propagation has been successful. Plants that are divided in the spring may not flower the first season.

This is a plant that keeps on giving. Notice the richly colored autumn foliage on the right side of the double photo above.This perennial can be purchased from Hortico or Fraser's Thimble Farms. A word of advice: No web photo can do this plant justice, not even the image above. You have to grow it to know it. Thanks to for the photo.

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