Pelargonium quinquelobatum

First pelargonium from seed!

I am beyond excited that the first pelargonium I grew from seed, Pelargonium quinquelobatum, flowered this week. I have been obsessed by this species pelargonium since seeing it last summer at Derry Watkin’s nursery, Special Plants, near Bath. Its quixotic color stopped me short: I had never seen a flower so unusual.

One of my first jobs while studying photography at university was working in a photo processing store where I sat at a machine that developed customers’ photos—back when we all still used film, ha! Part of my job was evaluating the images and making color corrections to remove incorrect balances in cyan, magenta, and yellow. I developed an excellent eye for seeing unusual color casts at that job, and when I look at the flower of Pelargonium quinquelobatum I immediately see a strange muddle of cyan and magenta in its petals that resembles a poorly balanced photograph. This color in a flower absolutely fascinates me, but the maddening thing is that I’ve found it impossible to capture in a photograph, despite trying different cameras, lenses and light conditions. Though the flowers in my images here look like a generic rose, they are far from that color in real life.

I originally tried to grow Pelargonium quinquelobatum (named for its five-lobed leaves) last summer. I had no luck with germination, I suspect because the extreme heat made it challenging to control the temperature in my glasshouse. This year I sowed reserved seeds on March 12, and they sat for months doing nothing, until I about gave up. And then one precious seedling poked its head above the soil, and the only way I could tell it was a pelargonium and not a wind-blown weed was from the distinctive smell of its leaves.

I coddled this young plant, and it is the one you see in these pictures. The irony is that when I potted it on a couple of weeks ago and stuck it outside with the rest of my collection, two of its kind germinated right at its base, no doubt from seeds that hitched a ride into their new container! It always humbles me that though we work so hard to nurture plants sometimes all they need is to be left alone to get on with their lives in their own good time.

In other unusually colored pelargonium news, I’ve achieved my first flower on Pelargonium gibbosum. It’s a stunning lime-green, another color not often seen in flowers. I bought this young plant last month at Fibrex Nurseries, home of the national pelargonium collection. That trip was a pilgrimage for me, and will no doubt the the subject of a blog post some day soon.

Dec. 16: Floral advent calendar: Pelargonium quinquelobatum

While we’re on the subject if indefinable flower colors, I must include Pelargonium quinquelobatum. This member of the Geraniaceae family actually stopped me in my tracks while walking through Derry Watkins’ Special Plants nursery near Bath this August.

Its flower is another of these colors that’s hard to capture in a photograph. Perhaps the best description comes from Wooten’s, which calls it “an iridescent moonbeam color. Truly beautiful.

I’d call the color quixotic. I’ve never seen anything like it in a flower. It simply doesn’t seem possible and yet I held it in my hand.

I bought some seeds of Pelargonium quinquelobatum from Special Plants and sowed a batch this summer on the off chance they might take. No germination. Good thing I held back the second packet and I will try again this spring. Derry said it’s a bear to propagate from cuttings but easy from seed. I hope the season will be on my side when I try again because this is definitely a pelargonium I want to add to my growing collection.