Many years ago, I was asked to turn an odd little patch of ground into a formal garden. It was an unpromising site for such a transformation – although four-sided, it was asymmetric, and there were two flights of steps descending into it from walls which weren’t perpendicular. Being a sunken area bounded by walls, it was both very damp and a frost-pocket. The owner desired cruciform paths with a circular pool complete with fountain at the intersection. All of these challenges could be resolved with thought and labour, but, worse than any of them, the garden was to be a ‘white garden’. My heart sank: Vita Sackville-West’s influential garden at Sissinghurst still casts a long shadow. I don’t blame Vita. The garden as she originally imagined it and wrote about it in 1950 was not a white garden at all, but a grey, green, and white garden. This has been largely forgotten, including by the National Trust, but the difference is significant. When she wrote of her proposed new garden, she imagined enjoying it at dusk. This, of course, is one of the few times a white garden can be enjoyed. In bright sunlight, white flowers are not pleasant viewing; the sun strips them of all subtlety and they glare back at the viewer, defiantly guarding their secrets.
I began to translate our conversations into a garden, sketching out a workable plan of the right proportions. The riven York stone would be laid open-bonded so that the paths could be planted with Gypsophila nana and Thymus serpyllum. I chose plants for a green, silver, and pale garden: there were whites, certainly, but also the palest blues, pinks, and washed yellows I could find – colours which retain their beauty even in bright light.
Geranium ‘Blue Cloud’ was one of these choices. It is aptly named. A single crown can form a loose mound of mauve-blue flowers over 1m/3′ across. Its habit is described as ‘lax’, but I prefer the positive ‘relaxed’. It is a plant which enjoys the support of its friends and neighbours. It is most effective when it can rest through the grey-blue-green blades of Iris germanica, the shades complementing perfectly, and the forms contrasting pleasingly. It softens the bristly, rigid stems of Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’, the mauve of the geranium and the purple of the sage being most harmonious.
Geranium ‘Blue Cloud’ is a study in the number five. The flower is small, perhaps 20mm/>1″ across, and its effectiveness stems from its profusion. Each flower has five petals and each petal is marked by five red veins. The petals are widely spaced by mid-green sepals, which adds to the sense of coolness. Ten anthers of dusky purple float above the corolla. It is a thing of beauty, plant it where you can. Pair it with Cynara scolymus ‘Violetta Precoce’, Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’, Iris germanica ‘Frost Echo’, or Salvia turkestanica. Pour yourself a glass of gin and tonic – the drink shares the same ultraviolet hue as ‘Blue Cloud’ – sit, rest in the garden. The fountain moves so that you don’t have to, just sit and be. Watch the play of light in the falling water, the flowers of ‘Blue Cloud’ caressed by the breeze. Heaven will not be more beautiful.