In any alphabetical list of herbaceous plants ‘G’ is a letter that rarely gets me excited. Maybe it’s because it is a third of the way through the alphabet, a non place, with neither the excitement of early achillea and agapanthus nor the satisfaction of the midway point or the headlomg rush as the alphabet reaches its conclusion with few entries. But maybe it’s because the plants don’t quite float my boat. Gaillardia, galega, gaura, geranium, geum. All are nice enough plants and have their uses. Geraniums are workhorses in the border and earn their place through their adaptability and freedom of bloom and they have decent foliage. There is nothing wrong with any of them but I can’t quite get excited about them. Its my fault, not theirs.
But I couldn’t help noting a bright geum the other day and I bought one at the Antrim show last weekend so I thought it only fair to give them a mention.
The first, which I planted last year (see – I acknowledge they are useful and have their place in the garden) is the bright orange Geum ‘Borisii’. This is not a plant for those of a delicate disposition because the flowers are a pretty uncompromising blob of rich orange, oozing citric acid. The plants are small and have bright green leaves and blooms are produced mainly in May and June, with a few later if you are lucky. I always think it is rather like a yappy Yorkshire terrier, small in size but impossible to ignore. You will see it labelled as G. borisii, G. x borisii and G. ‘Borisii’ as well as G. coccinea. If it is a cultivar or hybrid the best details of its origin are that it is a natural hybrid between G. bulgaricum and G. reptans. Apparently it was found by Willhelm Schacht (the Curator of Munich Botanic Garden) on Musala, the highest peak in the Rila mountains, and all Bulgaria, when he was with King Boris lll (1894 – 1943) of Bulgaria and he named it after him. It seems plausible I suppose and I was just glad it wasn’t in honour of the Mayor of London on account of it’s colourful mop.
Reaching only about 25cm high it is a front-of-the-border plant and would look great with yellow foliage. Valeriana phu ‘Aurea’ (I grow it just for the name) would be nice as would Millium effusum ‘Aureum’. I gave it heuchera ‘Pistache’ as a companion but that one passed away so it is presently sadly single. Geums don’t all want wet soil (though some do) but they do like moisture. If too dry they get awful mildew and in my garden in Cambridgeshire I have often thrown them out because they looked so awful as they struggled to cope with heat and drought. Notably, the prolific ‘Totally Tangerine’ grows on regardless.
In complete contrast, ‘Coppertone’, a great plant from Beth Chatto, is a refined beauty with slightly nodding flowers and colourful, red calyces, a trait inherited from Geum rivale, one of its parents. The petals are soft apricot and this is as charming as ‘Borisii’ is frantic. This is an old ginger tom of a plant, relaxing in the shade on a hot day, watching a cheeky sparrow but just too laid back to bother to chase .