This species is believed to have been grown by Thomas Jefferson in the President's House.1
Upon Jefferson's retirement in 1809, Margaret Bayard Smith, a Washington socialite, asked for a geranium Jefferson was growing and the departing president replied: "it is in very bad condition, having been neglected latterly as not intended to be removed. ... if plants have sensibility, as the analogy of their organisation with ours seems to indicate, it cannot but be proudly sensible of her [Mrs. Smith's] fostering attentions."2
Imported from South Africa into Britain by the early 1700s, this species geranium was an exciting novelty that became one of the parents of our modern bedding geraniums.3Geraniums were popular enough in America by 1800 to be featured by Rembrandt Peale in his famous 1801 portrait of his brother Rubens.
The geranium is a tender perennial, grown as a houseplant, with velvety green foliage studded with clusters of bright scarlet flowers throughout the year.
- Peggy Cornett, n.d.
Primary Source References
1807 November 23. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "I have stuck several sprigs of geranium in a pot which contained a plant supposed to be orange, but not known to be so."4
Late 1808-Early 1809. (Margaret Bayard Smith to Jefferson). "I have seen in your cabinet, a Geranium, which I understood you cultivated with your own hands. If you do not take it home with you, I entreat you to leave it with me. I cannot tell you how inexpressibly precious it will be to my heart. It shall be attended with the assiduity of affection & watered, with tears of regret; & each day as I attend it ...."5
1809. (Margaret Bayard Smith). "In the window recesses were stands for the flowers and plants which it was his delight to attend and among his roses and geraniums was suspended the cage of his favorite mocking-bird, which he cherished with peculiar fondness ...."6
Boyd, Julian P. A Geranium for Lyman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951. A farewell keepsake by Julian Boyd, editor of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, in honor of colleague Lyman Butterfield, recalling Jefferson's gift of a geranium to Margaret Bayard Smith.