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Island Life

There. I said it. I’ve been sitting and staring at the screen- getting up and walking out into the garden- coming back in and sitting and staring at the screen. The only thing that keeps returning to the forefront of my attention is a geranium. It is a word that takes me two places at once. Primarily right here it references the seedling strain that is currently dotting my border with a range of foliage color in varying shades of all green, green infused with red or edged in an accent of burgundy. The parent plants were selected seedlings from a group grown under the name ‘Victor Reiter’. All from this group were chosen for their burgundy leaf tones as they emerged from Winter hibernation. As it turned out, only one from this group actually maintains the form of the parent plant that may or may not have been an actual clone of the original. That is both the fun and the trouble with growing named plants from seed- you never really know what you are going to wind up with. For some of us, that isn’t a problem.

The plant in the border that has strayed the least from the description of the original maintains its burgundy and moderately dissected foliage throughout the season, and the flowers tend more toward the violet than the blue-violet of the others. This plant also stays neat and low as a six to eight inch mound, where its siblings are now striving to be more like the rest of their supposed pratense parentage and speciedom, and are rising up in columns of burgundy- green stems and foliage to heights approaching two and a half feet. This always ends somewhat badly when the inevitable collapse comes, with plants spilling over on neighbors and causing inhibited growth and foliar melee with some silent ruckus thrown in as well among the tidier members of the border melange. When this happens, though, my favorite part is not long to follow- that being the throwing of the seeds. While the gentle bombardment of pop weed or the random snap of an exploding scotch broom seed casing on a hot mid-summer afternoon can cause varying degrees of consternation in the garden, I find that the mini catapaults built into each geranium are fascinating in their organic mechanics, and the randomness of their distribution offers garden surprises down the proverbial timeline and garden path.

One of the above-mentioned two places that geraniums take me is back to England and to some of the gardens where random seedlings are left in and about the paths, creating both garden interest and the need to be more focused and alert while exploring. While plants as pathway interlopers are fun, they do not fare well in the freeway mentality found in larger gardens, or on garden tours where the viewing experience is dictated by the volume of viewers and the number of gardens and the time allotted to see them all. It is that accelerated motion demanded by a perceived lack of time which is associated with the other place that geraniums take me, and that is to my parents’ house. Generally it was the shortness of the visit that necessitated a certain urgency. And it usually was to the local garden centers that my mother and I would go when I was back there in early Summer, and it was what I first learned of as geraniums, and now known to me as pelargoniums, that were the sought after plants that we scurried for in order to fill her color spot containers. When I went back last year, I went by myself to the local plant provider because, as my Dad said- "It’s what your Mother would have wanted." As my sister reported back later in the Summer, my Mother would have also wanted my Dad, or someone, to water those plants, and that just didn’t happen.

So here and now I choose to admire and cultivate my hardy geraniums, among other things. There are a few rogues making a brave stand in the gravel pathways, in spite of the dangerous dragging of the hose and the thundering rampage of the three black dogs. Even the recent incursions by the wily deer have found the geraniums, usually a deer delight, thankfully intact afterward, while the dwarf apples and the raspberry tips have fared a bit less well. And it was the other day, following a report from elsewhere on the Island that more bee colonies were continuing to collapse and disappear, that I noted the welcome presence of bees on the geranium flowers as I weeded around them. I do not believe it is just pesticides killing the bees, although I do believe we would be better off if pesticides and herbicides were made to go away in a unanimous, Island-wide boycott. It would be a start.