Great Companion Plants For a Cottage Garden: Geraniums

This post about hardy geraniums, popularly called cranesbills, (not the pelargoniums) is the second in my series on companion plants.

Blue hydrangea with geranium companion plant

Blue hydrangea with a geranium companion

What are companion plants?

Companion plants complement the showy ornamentals society loves – roses, peonies, delphiniums and hollyhocks – filling in the gaps in the flower border and helping it flow. They’re pretty enough on their own terms and happy to mingle in, above or below other plants. Good neighbours, they will not compete too aggressively for food, water or space.

Their presence encourages a healthier ecosystem by attracting beneficial insects which is why companion plants are often recommended for kitchen gardens. To find out more about what makes a plant a good companion, check out the first post in the series, on astrantias.

Pink roses with purple geraniums at a sunny Bodnant Gardens

Roses with geraniums at Bodnant Gardens

Geraniums (Cranesbills)

If you show me a decent sized English garden that doesn’t have a geranium, I’ll show you a garden that is missing a trick. Suppliers variously describe them as forgiving, easy, undemanding, generous and enduring. I don’t have a horse in the race, but I’d agree with them.

Geranium Sue Crug and Stachys byzantina

Geranium ‘Sue Crûg’ and Stachys byzantina

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Great Companion Plants For a Cottage Garden: Astrantia

Astrantias at Arley Hall

First, What is a companion plant?

Plant society members often think of their ‘pet’ plants as the stars of any border: flowering perennials, shrubs, trees and climbing plants that are guaranteed to turn heads. Think of peonies, roses, hydrangeas, day lilies, dahlias, delphiniums, hollyhocks, or even topiary as in the picture of Arley Hall, above.

Companion plants are the ones with a supportive role. They are chosen to complement the feature plants, contrasting or harmonising with them, in colour, texture or form. I can’t imagine a traditional herbaceous border without companions to fill in the gaps and create a tapestry effect. While companions add to the richness and diversity of the garden, they will not compete too aggressively for the limelight or for resources such as food, water or space. They create a healthier ecosystem by attracting beneficial insects.

Many of my favourite companion plants are long-flowering, allowing the garden to transition seamlessly from one season to another. You might have overlooked every one of the companion plants I’ll be highlighting in this short series of posts, but I believe they’re worth their moment in the spotlight.

Astrantia (masterwort)

Red astrantia

Astrantias are such useful, trouble-free companion plants that you’d be hard pressed to find a major English garden without them. Masses of small umbels are held airily on wiry stems like a profusion of stars, as their Latin name suggests. The intricate, lacey flowers are encircled by papery bracts of varying lengths.  Continue reading

Phlox With The Leaves Of Companion Plants

Phlox in a border

Burgundy canna leaves and the bright green crocosmia provide an interesting contrast to the lilac phlox, particularly as the sun is highlighting the leaves. In the background, arching polygonatum leaves are interspersed with a few heart-shaped hosta leaves. This is an example of companion planting for sequential flowers at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Romsey, England.

Himalayan Blue Poppies

Blue Poppy Stamens and Style

I was recently asked what my plans were for the blog in 2017. One wish sprang to mind. I’d like a TARDIS (for people who are not sci-fi fans, that would be a working version of Doctor Who’s time travelling machine). Pretty please!

I’d find it handy for no end of reasons. It would mean I can travel, take pictures, select and edit them, write posts AND publish them seasonally while the plants are still in bloom. I could visit any garden at its absolute peak at the golden hour and be back in time for tea with my sweetheart… (sigh).

Meconopsis in variable colours

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Verbascum ‘Caribbean Crush’

Verbascum 'Caribbean Crush'

This summer, you’ll be much more likely to see me out trying to capture different forms of verbascums on my iPhone than to see me playing Pokémon Go.

I added this one, Verbascum ‘Caribbean Crush’, to my virtual collection at the recent RHS Tatton Park Flower Show. The flowers open upwards as the sturdy spire lengthens, starting off a soft, peachy yellow, gradually deepening to a burgundy copper as they age. The effect is of two cultivars in one: very striking.

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Shrub Roses As Companion Plants

Roses at Wollerton Old Hall

To accentuate the beauty of a shrub rose, allow it to mingle with other plants, while indulging its desire to be the star of the show. Companion planting has a practical purpose as well as a creative one. Foliage of other plants can help to cover the bare soil and gnarled branches often found at the base of roses, and any mixed planting always attracts a broader range of beneficial insects, helping to keep the rose healthy. Continue reading