Geraniums in Exile

Geraniums are properly called Pelargoniums, but I can never bring myself to call them that. The excellent Fibrex Nurseries call them pellies, which is a little better. Whatever you call them, they are some of the most cheerful and cheering of house plants. Sitting on windowsills and by front doors, they are for many, the flower that reminds them most of home. You’d never expect them to cause a family rift, which is exactly what the salmon-pink geraniums do in Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse. As Maria says ‘But how in the world could you have such a dreadful lifelong quarrel just about geraniums?’

A few of my motley selection of geraniums. 
The Little White Horse is technically a children’s book, but it is so enchanting, that even if you don’t like her other work, and who wasn’t put off by the 15 page birth scene of Green Dolphin Street, it is worth trying again with it. The Little White Horse  has some of her best characters, with the most wonderful names, from Zachery the cat, to Marmaduke Scarlett and Loveday Minnette.

Loveday Minnette leaves Cornwall as an orphan ‘possessing nothing in the world but the clothes on my back and ten flower-pots with cuttings of geraniums in them, those glorious salmon-pink geraniums that are the pride of Cornwall.’ Over the years the geraniums multiply until they overflow her room and begin to creep down the stairs of her turret (yes, she lives in a castle, it is, after all, a fairy-tale), to the fury of her fiancĂ©e, Sir Benjamin Merryweather.  Despite the fairy-tale setting, it is an understandable problem: one geranium can quickly become a houseful (or castleful). They are so easy to take cuttings from, and quick to grow, that propagating them is a rewarding and addictive pursuit. I started my second year of university with one salmon pink geranium, and now, at a quick count, have around 30, though not all from the original plant.  Though my housemates at university were slightly more tolerant of their increasing ranks than Sir Benjamin. To take a cutting you simply cut (or snap) a healthy looking bit of the geranium off and push the stem of it into a pot of compost. Don’t over water them and keep them somewhere warm and sunny and very quickly you’ll have a houseful.

As Loveday took her salmon pink geraniums with her to remind her of her native Cornwall, another unlikely geranium loving exile is the Lecherous Lecturer, Boy Dougdale in Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate. The misery of his exile to Sicily with Polly is succinctly described by Davey when he says;
‘You see, he has literally nothing to do from morning to night, except water his geraniums, and you know how bad it is for them to have too much water; of course. They are all leaf as a result.’
This is the only part of the book where I felt any sympathy for the rather unpleasant Boy.
 Geraniums do like to be dry, so are perfect if you’re rather forgetful, or very busy. Your (minimal) efforts will be bountifully rewarded with tonnes of bright flowers from Spring to early Winter. Very worth growing, even if you’re not in exile.
I promise that not all of the posts will be exhorting you to grow whatever plant is being written about. At some point I’ll try to write about some plants to absolutely avoid. Any thoughts on bad literary plants?

If you want to start off with geraniums Fibrex Nurseries has the national collection of pelargoniums:
This is a very good review of The Little White Horse if you want to know a bit more about it

I’ll leave you with the story of another geranium loving exile!

The Dormouse and the Doctor
A.A. Milne

There once was a Dormouse who lived in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)
And all the day long he'd a wonderful view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)

A Doctor came hurrying round, and he said:
"Tut-tut, I am sorry to find you in bed.
Just say 'Ninety-nine', while I look at your chest...
Don't you find that chrysanthemums answer the best?"

The Dormouse looked round at the view and replied
(When he'd said "Ninety-nine") that he'd tried and he'd tried,
And much the most answering things that he knew
Were geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue).

The Doctor stood frowning and shaking his head,
And he took up his shiny silk hat as he said:
"What the patient requires is a change," and he went
To see some chrysanthemum people in Kent.

The Dormouse lay there, and he gazed at the view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue),
And he knew there was nothing he wanted instead
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red).

The Doctor came back and, to show what he meant,
He had brought some chrysanthemum cuttings from Kent.
"Now these," he remarked, "give a much better view
Than geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)."

They took out their spades and they dug up the bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red),
And they planted chrysanthemums (yellow and white).
"And now," said the Doctor, "we'll soon have you right."

The Dormouse looked out, and he said with a sigh:
"I suppose all these people know better than I.
It was silly, perhaps, but I did like the view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)."

The Doctor came round and examined his chest,
And ordered him Nourishment, Tonics, and Rest.
"How very effective," he said, as he shook
The thermometer, "all these chrysanthemums look!"

The Dormouse turned over to shut out the sight
Of the endless chrysanthemums (yellow and white).
"How lovely," he thought, "to be back in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)."

The Doctor said, "Tut! It's another attack!"
And ordered him Milk and Massage-of-the-back,
And Freedom-from-worry and Drives-in-a-car,
And murmured, "How sweet your chrysanthemums are!"

The Dormouse lay there with his paws to his eyes,
And imagined himself such a pleasant surprise:
"I'll pretend the chrysanthemums turn to a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)!"

The Doctor next morning was rubbing his hands,
And saying, "There's nobody quite understands
These cases as I do! The cure has begun!
How fresh the chrysanthemums look in the sun!"

The Dormouse lay happy, his eyes were so tight
He could see no chrysanthemums, yellow or white.
And all that he felt at the back of his head
Were delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red).

And that is the reason (Aunt Emily said)
If a Dormouse gets in a chrysanthemum bed,
You will find (so Aunt Emily says) that he lies
Fast asleep on his front with his paws to his eyes.

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