by Charlene Burgi
Are you looking for the perfect groundcover? Would the ideal plant always look manicured while growing fast and dense? In the spring, would it have pretty flowers in various shades ranging from pink to lavender (depending on the variety), then sporadically bloom throughout the growing season? Are you looking for something that reaches a maximum height of eight inches when mature? Would it grow in filtered light shade or full hot sun? And most important, would it require little water when established because the dense foliage acts as mulch?
“Too good to be true,” you say? There is such a plant. Did you guess? It is Geranium incanum. This wonderful plant comes to us from South Africa. The leaves are finely cut and the flowers sit proud above the thick foliage. I planted some in my mom’s garden several years ago and liked it so much that I added it to the Novato garden. While perusing the garden books, I found this gem could also grow in Lassen County. I started a few plants from cuttings from the Novato garden and tucked them into the Lassen garden in various hydrozones to see how they would perform in the extreme weather.
Much to my amazement, the plants not only thrived during the winter freeze, but actually grew! Excitedly, I picked up a pony pack (six cell plants) and brought them home to increase the wealth this plant brought to the garden. Shortly after their purchase we were called back to Marin and, much to my dismay, the little cell packs did not get into the ground. The weather was cool at the time of our departure, but within a few days the temperature soared into the 90s. I thought for certain those little babies were going to be compost material.
My husband Jack drove back north to check on the outdoor and greenhouse plants and discovered the little groundcover unscathed by the heat wave. I wish I could say the same for the Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ that was planted just before we left.
Note that this little geranium will spread by seed and can be controlled by shearing it back every fall when you notice the little cranesbill seed heads begin to form. After all these years, we have not seen the geranium escape the planting areas in Marin. Nor have we sheared it or found deer or rabbits imbibing it yet in either garden. (I say “yet” as deer and rabbits don’t read the books that say this plant doesn’t tempt their taste buds.)
While I would not recommend daily walks on this plant, Sydney, our golden retriever, will occasionally roll around on it. Much to my horror after her first back scratch, the plant looked crushed. But by day’s end, I found the plant as perky as it was before her romp!
If you are struggling with a bare area in the garden, this might be the plant for you. Check it out at your favorite nursery.