March 2, 2019

geraniums in a pot
Urn of geraniums, Glendale, April 3, 2017 (colored pencil and ink on toned paper)

I did this almost two years ago as a kind of art challenge. As a lead up to Earth Day, 4/22/2017, one of my sketching groups dared us to paint or sketch everyday until that Saturday. In April 2017 I was living in an apartment in Glendale and had noticed two huge urns of perky red geraniums up on pillars near the front of my building. So, for my April 4, 2017 art I sat on a wooden bench that was next to one of those pillars and sketched this. I have written in the past about using toned paper to achieve certain effects. And this soft grey paper is great to use when you want color to pop and I think the red flowers and bright green foliage make an even bigger impact when layered onto the grey. It can also add a kind of heaviness to other things. For example, the paper’s grey is an effective under color for the heavy urn. I think it gives the urn a head start by adding a bit of lovely darkness that’s in contrast to the flowers and foliage. I have used the same grey color to give a head start of darkness and weight to sculptures in the back garden of the Norton Simon. And toned paper comes in a myriad of colors. Next time you go to an art store, check it out.

When I chanced upon the photo I took of these flowers that day, it struck me how much I love geraniums. It’s not everyone’s favorite flower. But as I am writing this week’s story I have quite a show of bright pink and orange geraniums up against my toned golden house and toned grey stonewalls. Geraniums have a kind of “smell” that is probably not meant to be anything special, but I love it. I even have one that smells of mint when you gently stroke your fingers across the leaves. I have noticed over the years that the scented variety generally doesn’t have the lush bright flowers and leaves. The flower petals tend to be smaller and/or paler in color with somewhat spindly stems. And the mint one I have right now has not blossomed yet, so I have not idea what color that flower will be. For some reason that one hasn’t sent up a flower. Hmm…But I have such a profusion of color on my front porch right now, I hardly notice the mint-scented slacker…

I was born in Santa Monica, but have spent most of my life living in northern CA. And I remember my mom planting geraniums, but I seem to remember they were usually on the porch in pots, where they might have some protection from the frosts and freezes that can occur on a crisp Santa Clara winter night. Geraniums seem to be OK with hot weather, but not the cold. I’ve noticed that northern CA gardeners kind of let them fend for themselves or treat them more like coveted colorful annuals. But down here they grow and grow and grow and can be propagated by just lopping off a bit of a healthy stem and plopping it a pot with well draining soil. I’m not kidding; they actually root and thrive that easily in SoCal.

Even though I just said I have spent most of my life in Northern California, my love of geraniums began when I lived in Long Beach for a short time more than 30 years ago. I had family in Belmont Shore and had decided to see if the kimonos I was making up north would sell in SoCal. (Came pretty close to selling them to Neiman Marcus, but that’s another CA girl’s story…) One of my first memories of the Shore (as it’s known by the locals) was the amazing front yards filled with geraniums of every shockingly bright color you can imagine. I mean, they had been planted in the ground and were not in pots to hide away during winter. It almost hurt my eyes to look at those intense purples, reds, crimsons and oranges in the yards of white washed Spanish style stucco houses set against the bright blue sky. But I was hooked. I tried to grow them when I got back to Northern CA, but I knew they would not make it hanging out bare in the ground. So, I put them in pots. (Nothing so disheartening as once perky geraniums turned to frozen popsicle stems and flowers that soon turn a slimy ghoulish black color when they thaw out). I just sort of gave up on them for a while, just too much disappointment.

By 1995 I moved again from Northern CA and went to live in Central CA, specifically Paso Robles. My son’s Great Aunt Ruth gave me many cuttings of geraniums and I propagated them in pots and enjoyed them as bright annuals. I liked the more old-fashioned ones with the rather strange smell that I described earlier. Thank goodness Aunt Ruth gave me a number of scented ones as well. That’s how I learned that there could be varieties of geraniums that smelled nice to other people. In the early 2000’s I began working as a freelance editor and writer for Sunset Garden books. It was at that time that I began my interest in plant taxonomy. It was really great fun to learn about ornamental grasses, how to construct a greenhouse, old varieties of Southern apple trees, plants that do well in pots, plants that do well in the Pacific Northwest etc. And it kind of just happened that one day I was talking to an editor there and she reminded me that what I was calling a geranium was actually not a geranium. In fact, if you Google geranium you will find that “there is some general confusion” about this particular plant and you shouldn’t call a geranium a geranium if it is in fact a pelargonium. Who knew? And maybe who cares? I got into it, just as all the other kind of snooty plant people do. But now that I have been away from that little world of words for almost 20 years, I don’t correct people when they call a pelargonium a geranium. I mean, how rude? I figure that if I am talking about something, and you know what I’m referring to, who cares? Right? I think there are way more important things to consider than who seems to know more than someone else. I think the real question here should be, if you could have a pot of something lovely on your sunny porch, what would it be? Don’t get hung up on telling someone about your amazing pot of pelargonium. They might think a “pot of pelargonium” is code for cannabis and wonder what you are doing. The cannabis plant flower doesn’t look like much, and of course the palmate leaf is what most people recognize. That plant certainly has a distinctive smell that I do not like. I think I would rather smell geraniums on my front porch. How about you?

How should I celebrate my 100th post?

Crazy to imagine, but as of Feb 23, 2019, I have posted 100 pieces of art with CA stories. My first post/story was March 25, 2017. So I am actually coming up to my 2-year anniversary date for One California Girl. March 25th also happens to be my mother’s birthday. So, there are many things for me to celebrate, remark about, or possibly ignore. And it does make me think that I should maybe do something special for my mom’s birthday this year. I’ll think about that one…So, where did I go last evening to celebrate 100 posts? To the Norton Simon of course! Stay tuned for Titian’s Portrait of a Lady in White.

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