We’ve seen them on boats. We’ve seen them on the façades of chic hotels. We’ve seen double-decker arrangements of window boxes. Why is the geranium so popular in Paris? For one thing, as Anne Wilkinson points out in The Passion for Pelargoniums, it is “easy to grow, easily available, and stands up to a considerable amount of neglect.”It also seems to tolerate city air and dust. And in Paris it apparently overwinters: here are some dried-out specimens at Christmastime, but they will probably bounce back in the spring. Today, geraniums/pelargoniums are considered rather unremarkable plants, what Wilkinson calls “municipalized” because they are often found in city parks and in front of public buildings. They are so common in Paris window boxes that they barely register unless you look for them. But there was a time when they were considered the last word in horticultural fashion.
Pelargoniums are a native of southern Africa, and the first ones were brought to Europe by travellers in the latter part of the 17th century. They proved easy to hybridize and horticulturalists produced hundreds of versions.