The Pelargonium Exchange (2010-)

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Though sometimes derided by garden aesthetes, the humble pelargonium is a staple of gardens all over our region. The Pelargonium Exchange is a collection of pelargoniums and their stories from the most unassuming gardens to the most reknowned.

Cuttings in this collection were taken from gardens ranging from a world famous botanical garden; the Colonia Federal neighborhood at the US/Mexico border; a romantic perennial garden in Beverly Hills; suburban gardens in Los Angeles; to a 76 gas station along the 5 freeway in Orange County. You are also welcome to leave a cutting of a pelargonium, to add to the collection.

The collection is currently seeking a permanent outdoor home in a public space. When the cuttings are mature size and established in the garden, visitors will be welcome to take cuttings from the plants they like best, passing on these plants and their stories.

The following is a sampling of some of the plants in this collection, which continues to grow.

A big thank you to Casa del Túnel, Owen Driggs, the artists of Performing Public Space.

CHOCOLATE MINT, the Eagle Rock garden of Ivette Soler,
Ivette says the leaves make great bookmarks that leave a scent in your book as well. "This is one of the first plants I bought when I started gardening, over 15 years ago-- before I became a professional garden designer... I estimate I've transplanted this one plant about 7 times, at least."

Farmer Dave, York Boulevard, Los Angeles
At least since 2003, the planters of my local neighborhood postoffice, have become a local community garden, a living conversation between gardeners in the neighborhood. In Fall, 2009, Farmer Dave installed some awesome drought tolerant plantings and left a calling card in the form of a rock with his web address on it, as well as this boldly leafed pelargonium. For additional history, click here

JULIA, the Colonia Federal garden of Mara in Tijuana
Mara's house is surrounded by well-tended planters and many varieties of pelargoniums. This one, with flower clusters in both pale pink and white, was planted by her mother when Mara was young, before she passed away in 1964. When I asked Mara what we should call this cutting, she immediately thought of her mother's name, Julia, "a woman full of love."

JEANNE 1 Variegated, Beverly Hills
Jeanne's garden is richly textured and personal. I collected 4 pelargoniums from her garden, but this one, with its variegated leaf color, exemplifies the delicate and romantic character of her garden.

PELARGONIUM CITRONELLUM, A Very Important Garden near Los Angeles
Some people use this like an herb. The oils in the leaf also have insecticidal properties.

HP TOUGHIE, York Boulevard, Los Angeles
The original plant grows in a blazingly hot planter in full sun. It reminds me of those contorted trees that grow on tough mountaintops. I've never seen it bloom but can't imagine anything much tougher than this.

ELECTRICALLY PALE PINK, the garden of Shirley Real, former president of the Los Angeles Pelargonium Society, Highland Park
One year, my job was to find flowering plants for an English themed garden in Los Angeles. Very few plants can flower year round in Southern California and still pretend to be English! The color of this bloom seemed both civilized and exciting when I found it in a shady corner of my yard. But when I moved it to a sunny location, the pink darkened and became too wild-looking to fit into an English garden!

PALE PINK IN THE SUN, the garden of Juanita, Eagle Rock, Los Angeles
Because of the previous story, I collected this pale pink flower from neighbor Juanita's garden.

76 GAS STATION, OSO PARKWAY/5 Freeway, Orange County
On our second trip to Tijuana from LA, the artists of Performing Public Space stopped at this gas station to use the restroom. It seemed to have exactly the same layout and parking lot as the gas station we stopped at on our way home (to LA) from Tijuana last time. However, this time when we stopped there, we were travelling south, and last time we were travelling north. Is this the same gas station we came across on the first trip? Or are there two identical stations on each side of the freeway...? In other words, is this the same pelargonium I admired on our first trip, or simply its mirror image?