PLANT OF THE WEEK #79: Geum 'Tangerine'

There’s been a twenty-or-so year hiatus in my growing of Geum ‘Tangerine’.  Now I have it back, I wonder how I survived without it.

According to the Woodbridge nursery website, it was Dennis Norgate that kept this old form in circulation (as he did so, so many other great plants, during a period when perennials were deeply unfashionable).  Its most memorable trait is its screaming tangerine flowers, about as clean and high-energy an orange as you can imagine. Their airy spacing, held aloft on fine, wiry stems, leaves me with the lingering perception that the flowers are numerous but individually quite small, but I’ve just gone and measured some, and they’re 5cm across – much larger than I’d have guessed.

The flowering time can be incredibly long, from very early spring, spanning most of the warmer months, though if you can’t water, as I can’t, then they’ll go very quiet over the summer, and even where you have water, it’s right now that they’re making their greatest contribution, before the vast majority of perennials start to flower.

Geum ‘Tangerine’ also falls into that particular (and rather small) category of plants that stretch their above ground parts way beyond the spread of their growing crown.  This can be very useful in that it allows a reasonable amount of space around each crown for, say, early bulbs, or relatively shade tolerant early low-growers like violets.  Add to that the even rarer trait of carrying very little foliage on their wiry flower stems, and you have a plant that can be tucked quite tightly between other perennials, as even though the spread of the flowers might be as much as 180cm, the flowering stems cast virtually no shade at all, and can recline on, and intermingle with, the surrounding (and probably later flowering) plants without compromising their growth in any way. 

Geum ‘Tangerine’ sown-through with and surrounded by self-sown mixed poppies. Neither compromised the other in any way

Indeed, the mound of actual foliage is only about 50cm high and wide, while the flowers will stretch up to a metre in height, gradually sprawling sideways.  Something like Nepeta ‘Six Hill’s Giant’ has a similar sideways spread from a similarly minimal crown, but it shades and outcompetes virtually everything within its 2m grasp.  Geum ‘Tangerine’ does no such thing.  In that sense, it’s infinitely more ‘sociable’ than many of the other early flowering perennials.

Furthermore, it really doesn’t mind being a bit squeezed between other stuff in mid summer, when for me it’s not likely to be contributing much in the way of flower.  The ‘bun’ of leaves is relatively shade tolerant, and is therefore likely to survive the competition of the later, taller stuff.  All up, that makes it a fabulous plant to fling itself over and through an otherwise late-flowering perennial palette.

Last year, out of mild curiosity, I planted some Geum ‘Red Wings’ near to my clusters of ‘Tangerine’.  The combination is thrilling. 

If Geum ‘Tangerine’ sounds a bit too undisciplined and flamboyant in colour and structure, you could revert to the much more demurely coloured and primly upright Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’.  So many instagrammers seem to prefer the latter.  Personally, I don’t think it’s a patch on the older, wilder Geum ‘Tangerine’.

Geum ‘Red Wings’ with Geum ‘Tangerine’

Discussion

  1. Thank you, Michael for this VERY informative post. Geums are unknown in the limited South African trade, but on my six-month exploration of mainly UK gardens in 1995, I met and fell in love with ‘Mrs Bradshaw’. To my delight I saw her again last year on a garden visit to Elgin, the most ‘English’ of all our gardening hubs. What is more, on my limited budget I indulged in a single plant. As all my gardening is still provisional due to the logistics of our alterations, I ended up planting a rather tight clump of trophies and as such things happen, it proved even tighter than I anticipated. The show started with a very willing verbascum, and an even more willing grower that was very familiar, but not on my planting list, and a mound of lychnis which which promptly did what lychnis do. Eventually the intruder flowered, and proved to be a marvelous strain of Viburnum bonariensis, infinitely better than the roadside weed which I encouraged in my Sequoia garden over many years. Joy! But I was a little concerned for Mrs B – who one morning shook her head and announced her arrival, none the worse, apparently, for the journey or the accommodation.
    Question: how easy will she be to propagate? Do I save seed, which might revert (which could be interesting).? Rely only on division? Take cuttings? What experience to others have of Geum when not readily available as seeds or plants?

    1. PS: I’m passionate about tangerine…

    2. Hi Jack, Mrs Bradshaw can reliably be propagated by seeds. If you are impatient you can also divide your clump over winter. The divisions will quickly bulk up.

  2. I love my Mrs Bradshaw too, Such a survivor and so long flowering. I split mine and all the pieces grew well.

    1. Thank you, Stephanie!

    2. Yeah, I’m with Steph. It’s an easy thing to divide in winter/early spring.
      On that, Jimi Blake does a lot of summer splitting of perennials. I can so see the logic of this (rapid root recovery, for eg), but it’s probably easier to achieve in the low heat and drought stress of Ireland than here in Australia, or for you in SA. I might give that a try on some of my geums once their main show is over. Wouldn’t be doing it with my one and only Mrs B though!

  3. Thanks for sharing, I am really enjoying the yellows and oranges is the garden at the moment. This one is going on the list. Is there a blue colour flower that would look nice next to this ?

    1. Jenny do you know Commelina? It is an easily managed indigenous weed here, a carpet of bright green rather fleshy foliage wit sky-blue flowers dotted across in a long season.

    2. Hi Jenny, mine is surrounded by self-sown blue/purple aquilegias blooming at the same time. They’re also concurrent with tall bearded iris and the earliest of the nemerosa-type salvias

  4. Being myself a big Geum fan, I concur with you Michael that G. ‘Tangerine’ ranks at the top of all my Geums in term of the span of its flowering season, Although the big show is in spring through to mid-summer, my plants are hardly without a single flower and usually flower again comes autumn. This cultivar seems to be sterile and I have yet to find seedlings (unlike Mrs Bradshaw and Lady Stretheden which will self seed readily). It indeed needs a big of a tidying up mid-season as the flowers really like to spread their stalks around like a glorious orange crown but what a show it gives us with the biggest flowers of all the cultivars I grow.
    I am also very fond of ‘Totally Tangerine”, especially when grown in full sun where its flowers take a rich orange colour and the erect stalks make it perfect to grow among grasses but do not find it as resilient as ‘Tangerine” during hot summer days, nor does it seem to flower for as long as what the literature in the UK makes it out to,

    1. I love this kind of info, Gilles – the comparison in response to hot summer days. And the different uses of various varieties according to their form. There are times, for instance, when the wide-arm fling of ‘Tangerine’ could be really irritating, and the ‘tidier’ upright form of ‘TT’ being more appropriate. But in other settings, the intermingling-power of ‘Tangerine’ is exactly what’s called for.

  5. Used to have this Geum ( purchased from Norgates a long time ago). Going thru their catalogue was a fave occupation. I had ordered Mrs Bradshaw but got Tangerine instead, tho it took me a while to work that out. While I don’t hate orange I could never find a good spot for it in the garden as seemed too harsh a colour for any other companion. Guess I just couldn’t get the right blue to flower at the same time. So have moved on to the real Mrs Bradshaw and Lady Stratheden. Just love the airiness of the flowers, they are like butterflies. Your comments on companions for geums are so helpful and seem so obvious now I’ve read them. Because of their great foliage and ability to suppress weeds have tried using as an edge but this never really works as flowers flop over …they really are at their best mixed in with other perennials and bulbs.

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