By Jeannine Romero.
San Diego’s Cynthia Pardoe, multimedia artist and gardener, is passionate about geraniums and Pelargoniums. Speaking at the July 10, 2017 meeting, Pardoe noted that gardeners are basically problem solvers by nature. Day-to-day garden challenges include yellowing leaves, managing pests, and irrigation issues.
However, Pardoe, an expert in Geraniaceae with 40 years of gardening experience, took on a problem much larger than her own backyard. She became aware that many of the old garden favorites, from the original Pelargonium x domesticum (aka regal, or Martha Washington, geraniums), were becoming nearly impossible to find. Few, if any, growers sell them anymore, preferring to hybridize and sell newer varieties instead. Pardoe decided to do something about it.
What most people call geraniums are actually of the genus Pelargonium (not, confusingly, of the genus Geranium). Murky naming aside, faced with a threat to the existence of the plants that “captivated” her life, Pardoe began collecting and preserving regals in her four and a half acre garden. She grows her plants in the ground and in pots that hang on tree branches. Pardoe, married for as long as she’s gardened, said, “I don’t have kids, but I have geraniums a plenty.” She also has cats that enjoy her garden.
Pardoe finds pleasure and beauty in the variety of Geraniaceae attributes. She cites features such as hot and dark colors; color saturation and bleeding; fringed petals; tulip shapes; as well as variegated, velvety, bicolor, and veining leaves. Geraniaceae also have a wide span of sizes. Standards can be as tall as five feet, while the miniatures are about five inches tall.
She noted that there have been so many genetic interactions that one pot of Pelargonium may have three versions of the plant if parts of it revert back to their parentage. With so much diversification, she can’t understand why anyone would not like them. Varieties that get rejected by growers are rescued and added to her collection.
In addition, geraniums are edible and scented varieties can be incorporated into recipes. She encouraged gardeners to experiment with tinctures and infusions.
Pardoe discussed care for the plants, noting that San Diego offers “the perfect climate” for growing them. She added that they do not like wet feet, they require minimal fertilization, and many benefit from some shade. Microclimates abound on her property and she attempts to pair plants with the microclimate that suits them. She noted that zonal geraniums seem to do well on hillsides and they naturalize well. Some plants benefit from good air circulation at the base so she recommends removing some leaves as needed.
In 2001, along with co-founders Brenda Archer and Riccardo Gallucci, Pardoe launched the International Regal Preservation Project with the aim of preserving, documenting, and sharing information about regals for future generations. To learn more about Geraniaceae and Pelargonium, visit geraniumsonline.com, hosted by the Central Coast Geranium Society, which includes more information on the International Regal Preservation Project, as well as the care and nurturing of Geraniaceae.