WHEN it comes to gardening, people ask the strangest questions.
Very often they ask me to suggest something neat and tidy for a grave, or for a plant that needs no looking after.
If I answer that ‘there’s no such thing as maintenance-free gardening’ they shrug in disgust, then usually settle for my prompt of a plant which needs little in the way of clipping, trimming or division.
That being the case, I normally recommend a low growing mauve coloured geranium (cranesbill, as distinct from bedding or pot geraniums) called Max Frei.
This is just the plant for a small plot. And as an edging to a border in the ornamental garden it could prove to be the harassed gardener's secret weapon in the fight against ongoing maintenance.
Most garden centres will have plants for sale about now.
With Max Frei you get a maximum of six to nine inches of top growth coupled to a spread of two feet and more under ideal conditions.
This means good soil (they do particularly well if lime is present) so long as it's free-draining and open to sunshine.
As good as Max Frei is, it can be outclassed by a pink form of G. sanguineum called Lancastrience.
In my own garden this seeds willingly and comes up in the most unexpected places; between cracks in paving, in the dry shade beneath a now mature tree fern, even beneath ericaceous shrubs where lime would be disastrous.
It has persisted for years needing no division for their health or mine.
Anyone can grow these, and if you think they can be problematic, take a trip to the Burren in Co. Clare and see sanguineum and its varieties growing in the wild into clumps which are impenetrable by weeds and wild grasses.
Other really good forms include Shepherd’s Warning, with bright, cerise pink flowers over dark foliage, Rothbury Gem, with grey green foliage and pale pink veined flowers from May to September, and Shooting Star, with rich magenta flowers and foliage which turns a lovely red colour in autumn.
All are available from [email protected] or source locally.
Use these geraniums (cranesbill) as outlined or as part of a planting in gravel and rock gardens where their tidy proportions will be in perfect scale to the surroundings.
They could easily turn an interest in gardening into a passion and delight you during every season but especially during spring and summer.