Red hot geums to make summer sizzle

Since Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ took the gardening world by storm, just about 11 years ago to the day, at Chelsea Flower Show in 2010, there has been plenty of summer sizzle in borders throughout the UK. And there’s no denying its ability to tough it out and repeat flower from late May through to September. The plants in my garden get a tidy up in late March, before they power into growth to flower from mid May onwards here in North Dorset. As the first show starts to subside, they then get a short back and sides in late June, with a little sprinkle of sulphate of potash watered in. And off they go again with another flush of blooms by the end of July.

Seriously, if you want a great plant that earns its place in the border then ‘Totally Tangerine’ is a sure winner. Don’t let anyone be sniffy about its popularity either; it’s a real dazzler. And as my friend Rosy Hardy of Hardys Cottage Garden Plants, who introduced it, says: “It’s one of the longest flowering perennials at the nursery, only stopped by the frosts.”

Old-favourite geums for gardens

But what did surprise me a bit, was the fact that geums had been drifting along in the backwaters for so many years. For me they’d always been good garden plants and I know an ex-colleague of mine, Ross Bayton, was also a big fan, so I wasn’t alone in my opinion. I’d grown them as an eight-year old budding gardener in my aunt’s garden in Norfolk. We used to go to Fakenham market on a Thursday, where there would be the regular plant stalls selling popular shrubs and perennials most weeks. And I can remember saving up to buy a small plant of Geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’ which fascinated me with its fiery red flowers held on tall stems.

This plant took pride of place in the little plot of soil that was mine to do what I wanted with – about a yard square, but full of divisions given to me by other members of the family. And then on market day another week, the same stall had Geum ‘Lady Statheden’ which just as effectively screamed ‘buy me’, with its egg-yolk, ruffled flowers. The same aunt saw me peering intently at it and, knowing that I didn’t have any money, bought it for me.

With all the simple, primary colour taste of one my age, of course I planted it alongside ‘Mrs Bradshaw’. It was my very own ‘National Collection’ of two plants and I cherished them for a few years until ‘Mrs Bradshaw’ succumbed to not being divided and growing too close to an over enthusiastic clump of pulmonaria. I watched the leaves turn soft and wilt away not realising that these downy leaved varieties don’t like their leaves being kept continually wet caused by the company of other foliage and need carefully splitting and replanted in improved soil every three years or so to maintain their enthusiasm for life.

Fruitless visits were made to the both Fakenham and even Swaffham market (the highlight of Saturdays in mid Norfolk) to try and find a replacement. On reflection that might have been when the vibrant delights of these two geums started to pall with the gardening public. I guess there were other plants being given plaudits by Percy Thrower on the television at the time.

New generation of geums to grow

The arrival of the new tangerine marvel, however, certainly turned the spotlight back onto the geum brigade. And it was certainly a bright, incessant spotlight which meant that once it had arrived at Chelsea, it never seemed to leave. I well remember planting dozens of them in Adam Frost’s Gold Medal-winning Homebase Urban Retreat Garden at the show in 2015.

And so it was hardly a surprise to see plenty of new introductions along the way, including ‘Scarlet Tempest’ (shorter than ‘TT’) and with larger, redder flowers, ‘Red Wings’ (main picture) which I bought a few weeks ago to plant here in the garden, and one that I’ve really got my eye on ‘Lady Clementine, with really vibrant orange blooms. This latter is on the East of Eden Nursery website who seem to be breeding lots of these lovely plants.

But it is the hybrids of Geum rivale, G. ‘Borisii’ and other species that where there seems to be so much diversity of new varieties in shades of white, cream, pale lemon, yellow, peach, pink and orange. And these all thrive in partial shade.

So, what started for me as a childhood of love of plants has grown into a lengthy career in horticulture, teaching and journalism. Who’d have thought that a bright red geum on a market stall, could have helped root me in this hobby and industry that I love so much. I think a few more of these lovely plants might find their way into my garden, don’t you?

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