I purchased the packet of mixed-color geranium seeds at my local do-it-yourself store. It was only a dollar, on sale, and I had read somewhere that bugs that eat tomato plants don’t like the smell of geraniums. So I talked myself into the impulse buy even though I didn’t like the smell of geraniums either. I’d gone to the store for tomato cages, but I only got the seeds. I’d save money—much more than a dollar—by planting the tomatoes by the fence and lashing them to the posts.
When I got home, I deposited the seed packet on the kitchen counter where it quickly got lost under a pile of bills. The packet then somehow migrated to a kitchen cabinet and was forgotten.
A year later on New Year’s, I was hunting through the kitchen cabinets for my champagne flute so that I could toast the stars and universe and express my sincere gratitude for surviving another year—when I saw a flash of color. It was the geranium seed packet. The cover photo of different-colored geranium flowers practically grabbed me by the shirt collar and screamed for me to take them out of the cabinet, “RIGHT NOW! THIS MINUTE!”
The packet’s “plant by” date had come and gone a few years ago. That’s probably why they were on sale at the checkout. Too old by now. I dangled the packet over the trashcan, but it wouldn’t let go of my hand. Something in my head whispered, “Try anyway.” I heard a big long sigh come from somewhere. “Alright,” I said aloud, realizing the sigh I’d heard was mine.
I planted the seeds in the dark of the garage in one of those flimsy, tiny, black-plastic, two-tablespoons-of-soil, six-to-the-pack containers. I planted them quickly in a not-so-blended mix of the drought-hardened Texas dirt from my backyard and a little bit of potting mix that was left over from trying to grow tomatoes. (I was in my 30th year of trying to grow tomatoes.) I watered and put the newly planted seeds among unfinished projects on a large workbench in the garage where they got—perhaps—a few passing rays of sunlight a day. Oh, well. They asked for a chance? That’s what they got.
Six months later, I went out to the garage to look for something and, while looking, noticed something green on the worktable. The six-pack had one very small, perfect, undulating geranium leaf sticking out of sunken, stone-hard, bone-dry soil. The leaf was on the tip end of a very slender green stem. For all the world, it looked like the frantically waving hand of a submerged drowning man. “Help!” it cried.
I looked at it closely. The geranium that lived had siblings all around it that were flat, dry, and long gone. They had sprouted but died due to total lack of water and the heat of a southern Texas garage. OK, they died due to my neglect. But how could this one still be alive? It wasn’t possible. It was on the verge of “this is a miracle” not possible. I touched one of the dead plants, and it turned to dust. The living leaf was pretty and had a cute, fuzzy surface, but I didn’t touch it. Sadly, I decided to turn my back on the survivor and let it die too. Shouldn’t take too long. I didn’t look back as I left the garage, but I couldn’t forget the little green leaf, either. I avoided going out to the garage for a couple of weeks.
“I can’t grow but I’m NOT going to die,” the plant kept saying to me. “I’m just NOT.”
“You can’t live forever like that,” I replied. “You’re probably dried up and dead already. I’ll walk out there and find you gone, problem solved.”
“I’m your favorite color.”
I had no comeback for that except extreme curiosity. Was it really my favorite color? How does it know it’s my favorite color? How does it know what my favorite color is?
As you can see, I often talk to myself in my head.
“Do some housework.”
“No, I’ve got to finish that work project and pick photos for the website.”
“JUST—do some laundry then.”
“And stop by the donut shop on the way back from the post office. You worked very hard this week.”
“OK,” I agree, smiling.
I know I have conversations with myself, but I’ve never had a conversation with a plant! This geranium was communicating in my head. I didn’t know what that meant, and I didn’t want to know. I might actually be going nuts, but I was going to have to grow that thing now to find out its color!
That next weekend, after another successful work week (“Yay! Donuts!”), I went out to the garage. I had been thinking about the geranium. I couldn’t stop thinking about the geranium. Before entering the garage, I prepared myself mentally to see a tiny container of dried-up plants sitting in the middle of my worktable. I sidled up to the door leading to the garage and took a quick peek around the corner at the worktable. Everything looked rusty and gray just as I knew it would. Well, that was that. I walked into the garage—and came to an astonished stop. From the doorway, I hadn’t seen the leaf. But there it was: that stubborn, never-say-die green little leaf looking right at me. It was not any bigger, but not any smaller either. “Hi,” it said. “I’m still here.”
“Well, hi,” I said, sniffling happily through my tears.
One small clay pot, some good potting soil, and a drink of rain water from the barrel later, the geranium was put in its new home on the windowsill over the kitchen sink. There was a tree outside that window with a birdfeeder that brought all colors and kinds of birds. There was dappled sunlight all day long. I had my coffee at that window every morning and visited with the geranium before going to work.
The geranium grew like a bonsai tree. The trunk gnarled and twisted in beautiful shapes as it spread down toward the sink and then back up toward the sunlight. It grew a few branches. It grew small leaves here and there, making it look even more like a bonsai tree. And soon after the repotting and much-deserved care, it bloomed. A huge bouquet of perfect little flowers was held out to me at the kitchen window one morning. And that geranium kept on blooming. There were blooms all over it all the time, every day, all year long for many, many years. And, yes, they were my favorite color.
If you really have to know, my favorite color at the time of was light pink.
The color of my face every time I look at the geranium. ❖
This article was published originally in 2018, in GreenPrints Issue #112.