Geranium ‘Orion’

July 28th, 2014

by Tom Fischer

Sorry, ‘Rozanne’ (oops! I mean ‘Gerwat’), you’re pretty but you’re becoming a bit of a bore. You’ve been the life of the party for years, but the hosts are yawning and the other guests have gone home. Time to take your bows.

And in any case, ‘Orion’, the might hunter, whups your butt.

I am speaking, dear Overplanters, of hardy geraniums, and specifically of the now-ubiquitous ‘Rozanne’ and her undeservedly obscure rival, ‘Orion’. And lest you think that I’m being gratuitously mean, let’s make a scientific comparison between the two.

'Orion', in its first big flush of bloom in May.

‘Orion’, in its first big flush of bloom in May.

Geranium 'Orion' 1

A closeup of ‘Orion’. Those flowers are big.

'Orion' on the left, 'Rozanne' on the right.

‘Orion’ on the left, ‘Rozanne’ on the right.

Both are sterile, and because they don’t exhaust themselves producing seed, they put on a nonstop display from late spring into autumn. Even score.

Although both are the same medium blue-violet, the flowers of ‘Orion’ are more saturated and less diluted with pink. ‘Orion’ 2, ‘Rozanne’ 1.

The flowers of ‘Orion’ are a full two inches across, sometimes more, while the flowers of ‘Rozanne’ are an inch and a half. ‘Orion’ 3, ‘Rozanne’ 1.

‘Orion’ blooms much more abundantly than ‘Rozanne’. ‘Orion’ 4, ‘Rozanne’ 1.

The foliage of ‘Orion’ turns a gorgeous scarlet in autumn and holds that color for several weeks. ‘Orion’ 5, ‘Rozanne’ 1.

Geranium Orion foliage

‘Orion’ puts on a spectacular foliar display in autumn.

‘Orion’ is easy to divide in the spring; ‘Rozanne’ can only be multiplied through micropropagation. Final score: ‘Orion’ 6, ‘Rozanne’ 1.

Does this paragon among plants have any drawbacks? Yes—it sprawls a bit. OK, a lot, but then so does ‘Rozanne’. If flowering slows down or it threatens to swamp a delicate neighbor, just cut it back and it will make new foliage and flowers.

Given their similarities, it isn’t surprising that both cranesbills claim Geranium himalayense as one parent. ‘Rozanne’ was discovered by Donald and Rozanne Waterer in their Somerset garden in 1989, and is assumed to be hybrid between G. wallichianum ‘Buxton’s Variety’ and G. himalayense. ‘Orion’ was discovered by Dutch nurseryman Brian Kabbes and is a hybrid between G. himalayense ‘Gravetye’ and G. ‘Brookside’ (which is in turn a cross between G. pratense and G. clarkei ‘Kashmir Purple’).Thanks to the vigorous attentions of Blooms of Bressingham, ‘Rozanne’ has sold more than 8 million plants and been the subject of much adoring commentary. ‘Orion’ only began to attract notice when another Dutch nurseryman, Coen Jansen, entered it in the Wisley hardy geranium trials, whereupon it was given an Award of Garden Merit. (OK, OK, so ‘Rozanne’ has an Award of Garden Merit too.)

Should you hoick out your ‘Rozannes’ and plant ‘Orion ’? Who am I to say? You may have a sentimental attachment to ‘Rozanne’. De gustibus and all that. But I promise you—if you see ‘Orion’ in its full glory—accompanied, perhaps, by Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’ and Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’—you’ll be tempted to croon to ‘Rozanne’, “Oh well, it was swell why it lasted, We did have fun, and no harm done. . . .”


The Essentials

Type of plant: herbaceous perennial

Family: Geraniaceae

Origin: garden hybrid

Habitat: open ground/meadow

Hardiness: USDA Zones 5–9

Height/spread: 30 in./36–48 in.

Flowers: glowing, medium blue-violet (RHS N88B), 2–2 ½ in. across, with pink veins

Bloom time: late spring–autumn

Leaves: palmately lobed, deeply cut, medium green turning bright scarlet in autumn

Exposure: full sun (flowering will be sparser in part shade)

Soil: well drained, moderately fertile

Water needs: medium; irrigate during periods of prolonged drought

Propagation: by division in spring

Sources: Geraniaceae; Digging Dog Nursery


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