Geums are gentle plants that tend to peak in late spring and early summer so they flower before the main rush of summer-flowering perennials. There are fifty species worldwide and they all come from cooler areas of Europe, Asia, North America, South America, New Zealand and Africa, so they’re often very hardy. Most grow in good, moisture-retentive soil, although some are meadow species and others are woodlanders.
The shade-loving woodlanders flower earlier, often by April. Meadowland varieties are usually a month later, but tolerate brighter conditions. However all geums demand a cool root run, they are not plants for dry hotspots. Their willingness to flower in May and early June, when leaf dominates, makes them Chelsea Flower Show stalwarts.
To generalise late-spring woodland forms, often with G. rivale in their bloodline, tend to have nodding flowers in softer watercolour shades such as lemon, pale-pink and watermelon-red. The flowers are often held in exquisitely pointed, dark buds and wispy seed heads follow. These spring beauties can only be grown in cool, shady conditions.
A Cumbrian nurseryman called Roger Proud, of East of Eden Nursery, specialises in raising geums and he has some interesting new introductions on his website. www.east-of-eden-nursery.co.uk. The nursery offers mail order and also attends major RHS shows. ‘Cumbrian Cherry Pie’, a peach-pink, and ‘East of Eden’, a pink-flushed cream-white, were both named by him. Their nodding flowers appear to shimmy in spring squalls.
As spring slips into summer brighter geums begin to flower and many are raised from orange-flowered Chilean species. The flowers are not brash however, because most have a green eye. These flowers tolerate brighter situations, but they still need cool, moist soil at the root. These later flowering geums do not hang their heads. Wiry stems hold colourful ruffled flowers high, like spinning plates on leaning poles. Later geums include the clear-yellow ‘Lady Stratheden’ ( 1921) and the bright-red ‘Mrs J. Bradshaw’(1909) seed-raised G. chiloense hybrids. However it’s difficult to find vigorous plants of both of these heritage hybrids because they’ve become weakened by time.
Modern breeding has produced some new geums of great quality and these tend to tolerate brighter conditions. ‘Totally Tangerine’ is a sterile, long-flowering soft-orange. ‘ Firestorm’, raised by Terra Nova nursery in America, produces a multitude of soft-orange double flowers with an irresistible green eye. ‘Flames of Passion’, a spring-flowering woodland type with vibrant red-pink flowers, is also highly regarded. This was raised by Piet Oudolf of Hummelo in The Netherlands and the seed heads and wiry stem are a real feature.
The American Cocktail series, raised by Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennials in Illinois, has produced the frilly, shorter geums with much paler, open flowers. They include ‘Mai Tai’, ‘Alabama Slammer’, ‘Tequila Sunrise’ and ‘Cosmopolitan’. I’ve found these difficult to get through a British winter and Sue Martin, the Plant Heritage National Collection holder based in Kent, has also had difficulties. A new RHS Geum Trial,
be held at RHS Harlow Carr, will trial ‘Mai Tai’ and ‘Gimlet’ because these are regarded as the best two.
Geums are bee-friendly, so they tend to seed and hybridise freely. When two closely related species hybridise, either deliberately or spontaneously, their offspring can be sterile and therefore long-flowering. Consequently some geums will flowers for months, rather than weeks, without producing seeds.
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Geum 'Dolly North'
How to grow geums
Where to plant geums
Geums like moist, fertile soil and they won’t grow in dry, hot spots.
However good drainage is also vital because many are derived from species found growing in woodland, on slopes, or on steep river banks.
They need regular division, every three years ideally. Dig them up in spring, or early autumn. Break them up into separate pieces each with roots. Plant out straight away, discarding any weak pieces. Don’t let your divisions dry out.
Many geums are evergreen, so the leaves tend to look ragged and brown by spring. Tidying them up in spring helps their appearance enormously.
Vine weevils like geums so keep an eye out for flagging stems. If you do find them, lift the plant and wash the roots and find another spot.
Regular division keeps the clump tight and, with less exposed fleshy stem, vine weevil becomes less of a problem.
It’s best to dead head those that do set seeds, to keep your plant pure to type, because seedlings will be variable.
Geum 'Lemon Drops'
Five of the best geum varieties
A woodland shade lover named by the late television gardener Geoffrey Smith (1928- 2009 ) and named after an damp area of his garden at Kettlesing in Yorkshire. Dark buds open to reveal very large copper-pink, semi-double flowers in April and May. At first these hang their heads demurely, as do many early-flowering geums, but then they straighten up and the flowers open wider before fading to paler pink.
A woodland shade lover found in Beth Chatto’s garden in Essex, with drooping heads of greenish yellow buds that open to yellow. Deadhead after flowering and place near blues such as Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’.
This old variety, raised by Amos Perry in the first half of the 20th century, has semi-double glowing orange flowers with a warm-yellow colourwash on the petals. Good at the front of a border, in a bright position that doesn’t get too hot.
This Chelsea Plant of the Year in 2010 is now a Show Garden stalwart and deservedly so. It’s sterile, with tall wands of soft-orange flowers that appear from May until late in the year. It was deliberately raised by Tim Crowther of Walberton Nursery and is the longest flowering geum of all. ‘Totally Tangerine’ is one of the best plants to appear within the last ten years and it will take more sun than most.
A stunning, semi-double orange that gives a 14-week flowering season, although some of the later flowers tend to be single. It’s sterile, so there are no unwanted seedlings on this Dutch hybrid originally raised by W van Veen of Leiden in 1923. This geum was popularised by the German nurseryman Georg Arends (1862-1952) and introduced into Britain by Alan Bloom in 1940. Good with late, dark tulips such as ‘Black Hero’.
Geum 'Prinses Juliana'
Grow woodland geums, the ones with the nodding heads, with wood anemones, epimediums, polygonatum (Solomon’s seal), trollius, Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow’ and primulas.
The orange ones mix well with late, dark tulips such as ‘Black Hero’.
Totally Tangerine flowers with the slate-blue stars of Amsonia.
The dark, almost smoky young foliage of some sedums, including ‘Purple Emperor’ and 'Karfunkelstein', enhances all orange geums.
Wand-like orange geums look sensational woven through grass-like plants such as the olive-toned Carex testacea.
Where to buy geums
Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants: www.hardysplants.co.uk
Ballyrobert Gardens: www.ballyrobertgardens.com
East of Eden Nurseries: www.east-of-eden-nursery.co.uk
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