The potted geranium was one step away from the trash bin at Bob Cliff’s Garden Center. She had been displayed on a spacious outdoor table in Spring, along with many others of her kind.
The geranium was dutifully watered several times a day, although sometimes a lax attendant didn’t give her enough water, and she wilted sadly. She wilted again when there was too much water.
This member of the Pelargonium family was a named specialty specimen—Pink Patricia—and in her prime could have easily cost plenty. But now, in the middle of Summer, and because of her condition—she looked like she had been stepped on—she was marked down to 99¢ and sat forlornly on the bargain table.
I examined this plant carefully as the garden center’s owner, Bob Cliff, looked on. The geranium possessed three gnarled stems with sparse yellowed leaves. I yanked the plant from her 6-inch pot and checked her roots. They were compacted and dry, but otherwise looked OK.
I discovered that the plant also had two tiny suckers which presented two ideal places to make cuttings. Only one woefully faded bloom hinted at her true color.
“I’ll take the Pink Patricia,” I said.
Bob Cliff smiled smugly, sure that he had gotten the better of the deal—99¢ for a probably-stepped-on, half-dead geranium? That was OK by him!
“What’s this?” my wife, Carole, asked when I got home and placed the plant on our deck’s table.
“She’s a named specialty geranium—Pink Patricia. I found her on the bargain table. I’m going to divide her, take cuttings, and make new plants.”
“George, are you sure she’s still alive?”
“Of course she’s alive. See that tiny green leaf?”
Carole looked hard. “I’ve seen better looking plants in the trash bin. She’s too far gone, George. You’re setting yourself up for failure.”
“We’ll see,” I replied, hoping she was wrong.
The next morning, I walked behind our shed and uncovered five 10-inch green hanging baskets that had held plants in past years. I always knew I’d be using them again one day.
I blended my own soil mix—peat moss, compost, humus, and vermiculite—and filled each basket 80 percent. I watered each well and let the excess drain.
I spread newspaper on the table where I’d perform the surgery. Removing the patient from her pot, I peeled away the soil, exposing the roots—and with a sharp knife, I divided the root crown into three pieces. Next, I severed the two suckers, trying hard not to harm delicate rootlets. Last, I skillfully made two cuttings from the branches.
I buried the rooted pieces immediately. The cuttings I let ”heal over.” Later that day, I planted them, two to a basket. I ended up with five fledgling Pink Patricia hanging baskets. A week later I rejoiced: all had successfully taken!
At first, the plants, which I fertilized weekly on our sunny deck, grew ever so slowly. But then, after a few thunderstorms invigorated them, they exploded in leaf and bud. The opening buds shone a bright bubble-gum shade of pink.
When the season changed, I brought the hanging baskets to my school classroom and suspended them in front of the large windows. The plants filled in nicely during Autumn and Winter. They basked in the January sunshine that flooded in, and they bloomed occasionally as the Spring days stretched daylight longer.
I brought the geraniums home at the end of April, when I carefully hardened them off and resumed fertilizing.
“George, are those really the plants you started from that half-dead geranium last August?” Carole asked.
“Yes,” I beamed. “Isn’t it amazing how well they turned out?”
Carole gave each plant the once-over. “I’ve never seen such lovely geranium baskets, and what a striking shade of pink! Do you think I could have one of the baskets as an early Mother’s Day present?”
“Sure. But first I want to show Bob Cliff how I breathed life—and lives—into the half-dead geranium he sold me.”
I loaded the five hanging baskets into my Subaru wagon and drove to the garden center. I carried them in and put them on the counter near the cash register.
“Can I help you?” an attendant asked.
“I’m looking for Bob.”
“He won’t be back until 3:30.”
“Is it OK if I leave these geranium baskets here? I want to show them to Bob. I have a few errands to run, and then I’ll be back.”
“Sure,” the attendant replied.
I returned at 4:10. Bob Cliff was behind the counter waiting on a customer. I looked all around, but I didn’t see the baskets.
“Bob, what happened to my five geranium baskets? Did you move them? You know, I propagated those plants from that half-dead geranium you sold me last August!”
Bob’s face flushed crimson. “You mean those geranium baskets were yours? You made them?” he asked incredulously.
“Yes,” I said proudly.
Bob started to sputter. “You won’t believe it, but I just sold all of them for $20 each. People were snatching them up left and right for Mother’s Day presents. I thought they were from my greenhouse.”
Perspiration beaded his forehead. I could tell he was totally embarrassed. Finally he pulled out his checkbook.
“George, I hope $150 will cover my mistake. And please select any hanging basket in my greenhouse for the missus. On me.”
We shook hands amiably.
Well, here it is, early August again, and I’m at Bob Cliff’s Garden Center puttering around. On the bargain table I spy a half-dead specialty geranium. She, too, looks like someone stepped on her. The little name tag reads “Lavender Lady.” I see beyond the brown leaves, gnarled stems, and overwatered roots to what could be. To what could be!
And will be. ❖
This article was published originally in 2023, in GreenPrints Issue #137.