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Friday, 22 June 2012

My top garden plants - Cranesbill Geraniums

I'm resurrecting this series that I started writing during the winter showing last year's photos. These are my must have flowering garden plants which have more than one use - all must be attractive in their own right but also be of benefit to the wildlife in my garden. In the case of certain herbs already mentioned, some have other uses too such as culinary. The six previous postings from back in the mists of time are here.

So evocative of cottage gardens, cranesbills are one of my favourite flowers but I used to have such problems growing them! I'd be in awe at their magnificence in my mother's garden yet I had only pathetic straggly specimens which never reflowered. Well that was in my last garden on the other side of France where the climate is much warmer in summer than Brittany. Here, however, because of my free draining soil I have planted them in semi shady conditions and for the most part they are doing well, with only a few stragglers! There's still only one that self seeds for me, Geranium phaeum, but the way that one spreads itself around it's probably actually a good thing!

I've noticed certain cranesbills seem more attractive to pollinating insects than others. Geranium phaeum is the favourite of bumble bees, whilst 'Sirak' and x oxonianum are also visited by other kinds of bees and hoverflies. The plant in the following photo was given to me by a friend so I had no name for it, but have identified it very likely as Geranium x oxonianum (actually with thanks to the Botanical section in the Parc du Thabor in Rennes - told you it came in handy for identifying plants!).

Heineken Hoverfly (Rhingia campestris) on Geranium x oxonianum

This is quite a big bushy geranium with large leaves. I've found it grows better being given some support and many of them I've put wire cages around so they grow up and through these cages which helps to prevent them flopping when they get too tall. Here it is again with 'Jolly Bee' growing through it. Jolly Bee is more of a spreading, low growing variety and the two work well together. Don't ask me which leaf is which as I don't quite know! Jolly Bee is only just coming into flower now so is one of the later varieties and I've yet to see which insects are attracted to its flowers, if at all.

'Jolly Bee' with x oxonianum

'Jolly Bee' growing alongside pinks with blue campanula becoming rather hidden under the foliage

Next is Geranium cantabrigiense, most likely 'Biokovo' but I'm not sure if it was labelled as such. The label may well still be there under the foliage! This is a very small low growing non floppy variety which doesn't seem to diminish or spread too much over the course of the years. I haven't noticed it so attractive to insects as some of the others, but it's still worthy of a place in my garden!

Geranium cantabrigiense, with Edelweiss in bud in the centre foreground.


A close up of Cantabrigiense

This geranium is one of my most popular with all sorts of bees and hoverflies. It's called 'Sirak'. I have it propped up with link stakes which seem to do the trick. It seems to love where I've put it, which is fairly shady apart from mid summer when it gets about 4 hours of sun a day.

Geranium 'Sirak'

In reality 'Sirak' is quite a different pink to my x oxonianum, more of a lilac pink. I see though on Google images that most that are shown look more like the pink in my photos, so it's not just me!

Geranium 'Sirak' with what I think is a Leafcutter Bee

After photographing this fly around the garden for weeks now, finally I know what it is.
I'm pretty sure it's a Common Yellow Dung Fly!

Now this one is a straggler! It doesn't help that the poor plant has been rather swamped by bluebell leaves so it has struggled to get out from under them. That will be rectified later on! Even so, it has very finely cut leaves and tends to be tall and floppy, so grows better if it can interweave itself with other plants. It's one of my favourite flowers.

Geranium 'Orion'

'Orion' and foxgloves


Not everything is growing well. This sanguineum was big and healthy for several years but last year seemed to dwindle in size and I thought I'd lost it. It did come back this spring but is only a very small plant, hence I only took one photo of it and it's not a very good one. It's a more vivid pink than this in real life.

Geranium sanguineum

Last, but certainly not least, is Geranium phaeum. I've already sung its praises on this blog and if I was only allowed to choose one cranesbill, it would be this one. It starts flowering very early and has been going strong for about two months now, and is never without bumble bees buzzing around it. It grows in total shade as well as partial and self seeds with gay abandon. It also has very attractive leaves and is one that will come back into flower for me after a good chopping back in summer.

Geranium phaeum


  1. You're so clever, superb photos again and very interesting.

  2. I have to agree, the pictures are superb, I so love your garden.

  3. I love your garden and your photos - absolutely breath-taking. I may simply give up blogging and read yours!

    1. Oh don't be so daft woman! You have a lovely way of writing that I could only aspire to and your garden is gorgeous! (but thanks anyway!)

  4. Came across your site while looking for plants that bees like; my new yard has more shade than I currently have. Enjoying reading about 'Sirak' and Geranium phaeum! Calamint is what I currently have that bees and such like. The small Vitex tree/shrub gets so many bees on it, it is astounding. I am located in Norfolk, Va. USA

    1. Hi there - glad you enjoyed this post and that it was helpful to you. I would definitely recommend G. phaeum for shade. Mine has just started flowering already, in a sheltered spot against the house wall. Bees certainly love it. Good luck with your new yard! :-)