But put hundreds of those pretty pink flowers atop a three-foot tall geranium with thick green flower stalks with red hairs and huge, shiny, frond-like foliage and you have a conversation piece plant that can—and will—stop traffic.
Geranium palmatum is a plant that should be grown not only for its prehistoric appeal but also for the very practical purpose of filling in dry, shady areas. It’s perfect for a spot in bright shade but it is surprisingly tolerant of that frustrating north-side-of-a-building shade that makes lesser plants lean. Plant it outside the eaveline so that it receives rain in winter. This beauty will grow slowly until late April, when it bionically shoots up from about eight inches high to three feet tall and wide.
Geranium palmatum can be hard to find, as it is a biennial (first-year plants don’t flower, and what nursery can sell a spindly plant with no flowers in a 4-inch pot?). Not until the plant is in the ground and growing lustily in its second spring does it burst into action, growing rapidly from a gawky teenage plant into a three foot tall and wide clump of dark green, deeply incised foliage.
Flower stalks appear in May and the plant flowers through much of the summer, sets seed, and dies. The seed will sprout in fall; just weed out the ones you don’t want and transplant the others to a spot where they are needed. They will generally flower the following year.
A harsh winter can freeze them out, but once you've successfully flowered a Geranium palmatum in your garden, you should have a couple of years worth of seeds stored in the soil and there's a good chance you'll see another baby popping up somewhere.
Just move the seedlings to those difficult spots on the north side of a tree or building and have faith: next year it will explode into bloom.
Geranium palmatum rarely shows up on retail tables at Portland-area nurseries. Order it by mail from Geraniaciae Nursery in California. You can also find its magnificent sister plant (slightly less hardy, and with a woody trunk) Geranium maderense and many other types of geraniums.