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a plant i’d order: geranium phaeum ‘samobor’

samobor-detail-2E ACH TIME I LECTURE, AS I DID THIS WEEKEND, somebody asks afterward about a photo of “that geranium,” meaning Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor,’ whose picture I show the way you show off the family snapshots and mention only the kids in detail, not saying a word about your spouse. Yes, I’ve come to take ‘Samobor’ for granted, after a decade or so together. But here and now this faithful, indispensable and handsome shade stalwart gets its own profile. You know the routine: This is another plant I’d order if I was letting myself order any more plants, and if I didn’t already have it. More adventures in armchair shopping, once-removed. Onward.

samobor-and-berberisI couldn’t make a garden without the perennial geraniums helping knit together the picture, and in shady spots (like under shrubs such as the ‘Royal Cloak’ barberry, above) G. phaeum is of particular value.

I was happy to see a really good selection of G. phaeum, including ‘Samobor,’ in this year’s catalog from Digging Dog Nursery, whose amazing Northern California gardens made the cover of Martha Stewart Living’s 2006 annual March garden issue and will be featured in May 2009 in Gardens Illustrated.

G. phaeum is called “the mourning widow” for its downward-facing, eggplant-purple blossoms. (Click on the top photo to really get the idea.) In the case of ‘Samobor,’ the widow wears dark chevrons on her foliage, too. Not all of them dress alike: G.p. ‘Lily Lovell’ has slightly bigger flowers and bright green leaves (no markings); ‘Langthorn’s Blue’ has subtle dark speckles on its leaves and brighter, violet blossoms; ‘Album,’ as its name suggests, is white-flowered, with green leaves.

I grow the phaeums in deep shade to half-day sun, and they sow themselves around, some individuals proving more or less showy than others, varying in leaf markings and even flower size.

The profusion of little flowers, on wiry stems, comes in May for me, dancing around with alliums in the front garden and elsewhere. The geranium foliage helps to disguise the ugly “feet” of many alliums, whose foliage browns well before you’re finished enjoying the blooms, and the geraniums cover up minor bulbs that are fading, too. (You can see some other things it blooms with on this 2008 post.)

samobor-moundBy the second week of June or so, the phaeums will seem to have stretched up and are quite ungainly, so I whack them back to the ground and a tidy, new flush of handsome foliage (above) emerges to keep me company the rest of the season. Don’t resist this step, and waste time trimming out only the flower stalks; butcher it as I do my equally indispensable bigroot geranium, G. macrorrhizum. You will be rewarded for your stern hand.

Geranium phaeum Sources:

  • Many local nurseries carry the increasingly popular G. phaeum varieties. Ask.
  1. Tammy says:

    Gotta love a plant that can take a whacking. Will add this one to my growing list from awaytogarden – Hakonechloa “All Gold”, A. aflatunense, A. christophii, …

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Rob, a person of obvious impeccable taste. Great minds, as they say, think alike. So glad for this moment of serendipity and your comment that shares it with the rest of us. Onward, together, into another planting season. :)

  2. Linda says:

    Samobar is one of my backbone plants, and after seeing drifts of it at Rocky Dale, I keep dividing and dividing and coddling volunteers. Now I’ll stop carefully clipping leggy blooms and whack instead. But…does that Barberry flower like that every year? That might be my newest purple/black must have.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Linda. Yes, ‘Royal Cloak’ will flower like that year in and out…but many states have outlawed barberries from sale lately, because of their inclination to seed around and be invasive, so it can be tricky to find in some areas. So glad you enjoy ‘Samobor’ too. backbone plant, indeed. See you soon.

  3. Maureen says:

    I like ‘that’ geranium Margaret and will have to look for some at one of our better garden centers. I have just the place for it! Looks like you might be the person to get me back into enjoying gardening.:)

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Maureen, and I do hope we can get you signed back on for more enjoyment of gardening. Maybe it became too much of a chore? I like to think of it as part puttering, part spiritual practice, and have even turned daffodil removal and the endless mowing into part of each. So do come back soon; plenty of enthusiasm here that I am happy to share.

  4. Kathy says:

    Love that Samabor Geranium. Ordered it from Martha Stewart when she did mailorder plants.I planted in my shade garden with Hellebores, Hostas ,Pulmunarias and other shade lovers. Always gets positive comments from garden visitors. Only wish it was a faster spreader. I have alot of gardening books but Margaret yours is my most used and shared with gardening friends.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Kathy. So glad you like the good old book, and also this favorite plant. Mine sows around a lot so I have oodles. See you soon again, and thank you for your kind words.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    You’re blog is delightful! So is my ‘Samobor’ Geranium and thanks to you I now have a name for it. Before I became a ‘mature’ gardener I hadn’t kept track of the plants I put in my garden. Now I keep careful records.

  6. Lynne says:

    I’ve had Samobor or a close relative for years. Brought it with me from NJ to the Hudson Valley, stuck it in a container for a season and then popped it into an empty spot in the back by a gravel path. This spring I found DOZENS of little volunteers (guess who doesn’t trim anything back?) so now I have enough to blanket a shady area where I can worship those gorgeous–almost black–flowers and two-toned foliage. Sometimes neglectful gardening pays off!

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