Geum are lovely colourful additions to the herbaceous or mixed border. They are hardy perennials that are small in stature but their bright blooms pack a punch. They produce a clump of rough evergreen leaves that can look a little weedy, like the strange offspring of strawberry and creeping buttercup foliage. But the flowers are worth waiting for, ranging in colour from white to yellow, orange, pink or red and in form either single, double or somewhere in-between.
There are about 50 species found in all the temperate regions of the world and many are alpine plants. Most species grow in moist, fertile soil in meadows or woodland, but some originate in open areas with poorer soil. This is why there are slight differences between the needs of the garden cultivars. They fall roughly into three main groups — rivale, coccineum and chiloense.
The rivale types prefer moisture-retentive soil and a position in shade or partial shade. They can be recognised by their nodding flowers, which have a distinguishing feature — the calyx, usually deep-red, contrasts nicely with the petals.
The coccineum types are alpines so do well, even thrive, after cold winters. They have upward-facing single flowers in shades of orange and red. The chiloense cultivars are named after their island of origin, Chiloé, off the coast of Chile. They can be distinguished by their long flowering period and produce tall, strong stems bearing large mainly double flowers. They can be planted in sun or semi-shade.
Geum grow well in most soils but remember that the rivale types like a moisture-retentive soil, while many others prefer well-drained conditions. They really appreciate organic matter incorporated into the soil before planting and thrive in sun or light shade. Give the wiry stems a little support and cut plants back to ground level after flowering. Many varieties are quite short-lived. Divide the clumps every few years, in autumn or spring.
What the specialists say
Roger Proud, proprietor, East of Eden, Cumbria
"Geum is a wonderful versatile plant that grows just about anywhere. At least that’s what I find with the varieties that I specialise in — mostly the rivale type, which do well in sun or shade as long as there’s some moisture in the soil. I have bred more than 60 varieties from a very hardy strain that I discovered on the nursery around 2004.
"It is very hard to pick out a favourite, having introduced so many. However, some great varieties include ‘Toffee Apples’, with its very large double toffee-infused reddish/pink flowers; ‘East Of Eden’ [named after the nursery], which has lovely double creamy flowers with a candy-pink flush; and ‘Eden Valley Angel’, with double creamy-lemon fading to creamy-white flowers."
"They are slug-proof and rabbit-proof, and I find them very easy to grow. Mildew can be a bit of a problem in certain conditions. They flower from late April through to the end of June/early July, depending on weather conditions, but will flower for a bit longer if they are deadheaded regularly.
"They can be cut right back after flowering and you’ll get lots of fresh growth — and, if the weather is kind, a second flush of flowers in the autumn. I also have one or two varieties that will flower continually from May through to September."
Rosy Hardy, owner, Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, Hampshire
"Geum have become popular over the past few years. There are many excellent garden varieties available, both new and old. The smaller-growing forms tend to be hybrids of rivale, or the water avens.
"The species or varieties that stand out for me include ‘Totally Tangerine’, which is one of my top-five plants. It has lovely light-orange flowers that start in late spring and continue to re-bloom until November. ‘Lisanne’ is another great one, with large lemon-to-apricot flowers in early summer.
"Geum are generally easy to grow in most garden conditions because they are incredibly tolerant. However, check which aspect and site each variety prefers because they can differ, and split every three years to maintain vigour. One of the problems to watch out for is that some of the older varieties have a tendency to flop."
Ben Wighton, assistant head gardener, Lincoln’s Inn, London
"In the past I’ve had some trouble getting Geum established in the garden. This may be because we’ve been planting rivale types, which prefer a soil that holds its moisture, and we have generally dry soil across our site.
"They are a fantastic plant with many flowers in the hot spectrum so they work brilliantly in a brightly coloured border and they provide good ground cover with their clumps of leaves that last the winter. Sometimes they can look a little straggly, but when the flowers show I know it’s been worth the wait."
Species and varieties
G. rivale, or water avens, has drooping dusky pink or pale-orange flowers with red-flushed sepals, from late spring to midsummer, that top red-flushed stems above a basal clump of bright-green lobed basal leaves. Height: 30cm.
G. rivale ‘Leonard’s Variety’ is a compact variety with semi-double coppery pink flowers in late spring and summer atop reddish/brown stems and lobed basal leaves.
G. ‘Prinses Juliana’ produces vivid-orange semi-double flowers on tall stems in early and midsummer, above lobed basal leaves.
G. ‘Lemon Drops’ has drooping buds that open in late spring, lasting to midsummer, showing lovely lemon-yellow flowers. Has flower stems and sepals flushed with dark red, like G. rivale.
G. ‘Mrs J. Bradshaw’ Award of Garden Merit (AGM) (H7) has large semi-double rich-scarlet flowers on purple stems and hairy dark-green pinnate basal leaves. Height: 75cm.
G. ‘Lady Stratheden’ AGM (H7) has large semi-double rich-yellow flowers on purple stems above a clump of hairy dark-green pinnate basal leaves. Height: 60cm.
G. ‘Bell Bank’ is a compact variety that starts with deep reddish/brown buds that open to reveal semi-double coral-pink flowers in late spring. The flowers are slightly nodding and bell-shaped, with yellow and brownish stamens, and the bells open wide at maturity. Overlapping petals give a frilled appearance. Height: 45cm.
G. ‘Flames of Passion’ Plant Breeder’s Rights (PBR) looks similar to ‘Bells Bank’. It is also a compact variety that starts with deep reddish/brown buds that open to reveal semi-double deep-red/pink flowers in late spring. Slightly nodding bell-shaped flowers with yellow and brownish stamens. Bells open wide at maturity, with overlapping petals giving a frilled appearance. Height: 45cm.
G. ‘Totally Tangerine’ PBR is a clump-forming plant with lovely tangerine flowers from late spring to November. Introduced by Rosy Hardy. Height: 90cm.
G. ‘Red Wings’ produces scarlet semi-double flowers in the summer. Height: 45cm.
Thank you to Floramedia, which supplied the images for this article from its photo library