In search of easy, good looking, hardworking and adaptable with an all-around pleasant disposition. Sounds more like a dating app profile wish list than a plant description but the latter is exactly what it is. And my prince charming, or the plant version of it, is a pretty amazing perennial that checks all my must-haves. You’ll want to “swipe right” too on Geranium macrorrhizum, or bigroot geranium as it’s more commonly known.
To my knowledge, few plants can thrive in sun or shade, heavy clay or sandy loam. But I’m confident Geranium macrorrhizum (hardy in zones 3-8) can and it’s why I use it liberally throughout my garden in all sorts of light situations. About 10 years ago, I bought three gallon-sized plants from a local nursery and planted them at the base of my Prairiefire crabapple tree in the front garden. Overtime, I removed pieces from the original clumps and planted them around the blue hosta divisions I received from my neighbor. At the time, I was thinking of it as a weed suppressant and temporary soil cover more than an actual plant combination. As the plants knit together and formed an impenetrable barrier, I fell more in love with this underestimated plant. I like a good underdog!
Not the sort to scream for attention like a David Austin rose or an Asiatic lily, Geranium maccrorrhizum is quiet and steady and may often go unnoticed which hardly seems fair for such a workhorse. Oftentimes, it’s the workhorses that get overlooked which is why I’m writing this as I think this little plant with the big heart is worthy of a space in every garden because every garden has a challenging spot or two..
I appreciate a plant that doesn’t require much from me. Aside from getting it established with the occasional drink, and I mean “occasional” in the loosest way as I’m not the most conscientious waterer, this plant wants to live. No drama here, just determination. So there’s really no care plan. How many perennials can you say that about? There’s not much to do after planting as it takes care of itself, spreading kindly by shallow rhizomes to form perfect pillows of deeply lobed, slightly fuzzy leaves.
As you may or may not know, I have a rabbit issue and this plant goes untouched because of the leaf texture. I’m guessing because who really knows what motivates these garden villains? Sometimes I think they mow things down just because they know how precious a plant is to a gardener. I’m anthropomorphizing here to a certain extent but I’m convinced they like to stick it to me.
Back to the leaves, they’re scented too which is likely another reason why Geranium macrorrhizum is ignored by garden pests. I have to admit I’m not especially fond of the scent which reminds me of mosquito repellant. Unless you’re down low with it though and deliberately rubbing the leaves, you won’t smell it in the garden. It’s not like a Casa Blanca lily in that way.
The power of this groundcover lies in leaves that stay tidy all season, turning a deep maroon in the fall and remaining semi-evergreen through the winter months. At a foot tall and two feet wide, it’s an ideal plant beneath trees and shrubs where it can do double-duty as both a weed suppressant and a tidy little spreader. If flowers are your thing, you’ll get them but they won’t slap you in the face with their beauty. Don’t get me wrong. The small fuchsia flowers are lovely and long-lived but one doesn’t plant it for the flowers.
When what you need is a plant that does a job quietly, effectively and with grace, Geranium macrorrhizum has it in spades.