My Vulgar Geraniums

My daughter and son-in-law once dismissed my annual geranium extravaganza as “too 1970’s.” They were newlyweds back then, infused with youthful confidence, and less tactful than they would later become. Before they brought it to my attention, however, I’d had no idea geraniums were as out of style as harvest gold kitchen appliances.

For me, they conjure up Norman Rockwell images of late 19th century houses trimmed with flowering window boxes and framed by white picket fences. Instead of the orange Formica reflection of the Brady Bunch, I glimpse the golden age of America’s small towns in my geranium pots. Instead of wall-to-wall shag carpet, I see gumption in their sturdy stems.

Lately, though, I’ve read that many big-time, famous garden designers consider geraniums ugly, even vulgar. Like so many things I have cherished in life, this old flower has been tossed to the wayside. But how could a plant that has brought me so much joy be so despised? Would it make any difference to the Jon Carloftis types if I told them about the geranium I personally have known and loved?

For example, during the years cataracts dimmed the lights in my world, the geranium’s brilliant colors were the only flowers I could see well enough to enjoy on my deck. And the day after my cataract surgery, with my eyes restored and un-bandaged, it was this “ugly, vulgar” plant that reminded me how beautiful and vivid the color red really is.

I’m also loyal to those who do a good job for me, and geraniums have served me well since – well, the 1970s. Now granted, I have a nonchalant approach to horticulture that matches up well with a geranium’s will to live. Roses are way too finicky and want more attention than I am willing to give. Temperamental petunias demand to be deadheaded and get stringy by July regardless. Impatiens require a Goldilocks environment, not too hot, not too dry. And perennials show off for a week or so then lie down on the job for the rest of the year.

But geraniums, oh my. They are the brassy trumpets leading my garden parade with their huge, pom-pom flowers sounding off in loud reds, hot pinks and fuchsia. They keep on going and going from early May until frost, through heat or drought, rain or wind.

Fortunately, rides through the countryside never seem to go out of style. On the first day of summer, the daughter who once dismissed my geraniums as “too 1970s” invited me to join her and her two children on a spur of the moment ride out Old Richmond Road. She’d heard about a commercial greenhouse tucked at the end of a private lane on one of the fine farms out that way.  Two big urns of flowers that flank her front door had not survived the bizarre Kentucky spring, so she was on the hunt for fresh, healthy plants to rejuvenate the pots. I was only eager for a drive through Central Kentucky farmland on a perfect June day.

Granddaughter, age 4, and Grandson, age 2, went with us too, and they waved at all the horses grazing in the pastures as we whizzed by in our mini-van. When we finally arrived at our destination, I sighed (the one that my girls say means “Mom really likes this.”)  The lane leading back to the greenhouse was lined with tall, mature trees with green glossy foliage. The sun was at our back. Racehorses were munching at the edges of the long, white, running-board fence. The fragrance of growing, summer abundance (fresh mown grass? wildflowers? newly planted tobacco in the fields?) drifted in through our open windows. Well, I’m not a good enough writer to take you there, and if I were you might doubt my truthfulness and think I exaggerate the beauty of Central Kentucky in the summertime. But it is about as close to Heaven on earth as you’re apt to find. My hope is that you’ve been around here at this time of year, and can fill in your own sensory details.

While Daughter and the nursery owner discussed replacement flowers for the pots, Granddaughter tossed off her flip-flops and wiggled her toes in the sand-like gravel that surrounded the greenhouse. I guess my job was to supervise Grandson, but I made a poor out of it. First, he wreaked havoc with the large wind chimes dangling from a pole. When he tired of that, he set a record for the fifty-yard dash to reach a pumpkin patch on the yon side. Gimpy me took off after him, but I was no match for a determined two-year-old.

After 45 minutes or so, Daughter’s containers were filled with tall, robust, red geraniums and white lacy lobelia cascading over the sides. Her pots were stunning!

I did not remind her that she once considered my geraniums out of style. I could have pointed out to her that Thomas Jefferson introduced the geranium to America during his years at the White House. The epitome of refined aesthetics, he would laugh at the hoity-toity modern garden designers who might dare to call his taste vulgar.

But why spoil the poet’s rare day in June, I thought. I kept quiet and smiled all the way home. Doesn’t it say somewhere in the Bible that if you t
rain up a child in the way she should go, when she is old, she will not depart from it?

Copyright © June 2016 Georgia Green Stamper