And the winner is...

ANYONE who has been following my column for the last 10 weeks will have noticed that each week I have featured a plant from the RHS shortlist for Plant of the Centenary.

And the winner is...

Chelsea Flower Show celebrated its hundred years at the 2013 show in May and to mark the occasion they wanted to crown a Plant of the Centenary. The shortlisted plants were each introduced at the Chelsea Flower Show over the last 100 years and each decade was represented by one plant. This list was then voted upon by the public and the accolade was won by Geranium ‘Rozanne’.

First exhibited in 2000, Geranium ‘Rozanne’ represents the period 1993-2002. A clump-forming evergreen, perennial plant, it produces beautiful blue flowers with a slight white centre which are produced freely on very short upright stems, about 20cm above its rosette of green leaves.

Like all the hardy geraniums or cranesbills, this perennial will thrive in shady gardens or a shady part of your garden. Try it in a simple terracotta pot where the habit of the plant and the colour of the flowers works beautifully.

Rozanne is famous in its own right as a plant that illustrates the earning ability of particular plants in the mass market as a seven-year court battle was fought between the owners to the rights of Rozanne, Blooms in North America, and the owners of the rights to another variety of geranium, Jolly Bee, the Dutch grower, Marco Van Noort.

Rozanne won the case, ensuring future earnings for Blooms for years to come. It’s difficult to believe such courtroom dramas were fought over this pretty blue flower.

Hardy geraniums are a fantastic group of plants because they give such colour during their flowering season and this will vary depending upon variety, however, the majority of geraniums will do their thing during spring and early summer.

Rozanne is superb in this respect, providing flowers throughout from March/April to October.

I suspect this is one of the reasons that it scooped the award, along with the fact that the flowers stand proud above the foliage with much of the other varieties having their flowers masked a bit by a dense canopy of leaves.

The lovely green leaves with a dark marbled effect are in themselves an attribute. None of these features are unique in the world of geraniums but having all of them in one plant certainly makes it worth having, as it ticks so many boxes.

When choosing plants for the modern garden, a plant really needs to perform for more than one season as gardens are getting smaller and space can’t be squandered on a specimen that may only have one short period of interest.

I first fell in love with these plants when I discovered Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’ as a child. I’m not sure what exactly it is about this variety that appealed. and still appeals to me so much, whether it is the lime green of the foliage as it unfurls out of the ground in early spring, or is it the bright blue flowers which are produced in abundance during the summer.

Or is it its ability to thrive on neglect — a trait which is entirely necessary in my garden — and its happiness at been planted in dry shade beneath trees where so few other plants will settle.

Whatever the reason, I still rave about Geranium Johnson’s Blue and couldn’t imagine a garden without it.

Rozanne is truly beautiful and a great garden plant, but I’m going to come off the fence and say that I don’t think it would have gotten my vote as the best plant of the last century.

Up against candidates such as the Russell Hybrid Lupins, Rhododendron yakushimanum, the perennial wallflower, Erysimum Bowles’ Mauve and Cornus Eddie’s White Wonder, it certainly had tough competition.

I think my favourite plant on the list would probably have been the rhododendron, but for sheer value I think I would have plumped for the hardest working plant of all — Erysimum Bowle’s Mauve. I say it is hard working because it never seems to stop flowering and bringing colour and beauty to the garden.

However, it wasn’t my vote that counted; it was that of thousands of gardeners from around the world who visited either Chelsea Flower Show, or the RHS Website and voted — and as such this truly makes Geranium Rozanne a worthy winner and has ensured its place in horticultural history forever.

Its new found notoriety will probably make it a difficult plant to source this year as growers who supply it to garden centres will have sold out this year, but fear not, as it will certainly be available in healthy numbers, and I suspect some fanfare, from next spring.

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