05 May 2005

Geraniums and morality

Among the gardeners in our family, there was an unwritten rule: you never pay for things like geraniums. You just acquire them.

Here in Southern California they grow almost like weeds. Break off a piece, bury the business end in the ground, water well, and presto! A new geranium plant. Sometimes the cuttings don't even lose their blooms ... what show-offs.

My mother went through a spell when she was in her 50s where she got crazy for geraniums. We'd be driving along and, all of a sudden, she'd yell, "Stop! Stop!! Pull over!!" I thought maybe she'd seen an injured animal or something. I'd stop the car, she'd open the door ... look around furtively ... reach out - snap - back in the car - slam - "Okay, go - quick."

She wasn't larcenous otherwise, but if someone let their geraniums grow enough so that they could be grabbed from the street - a piece would be missing after we passed.

I was tempted myself, the other night. Parked by a showy assemblage of pretty geraniums with sawtooth leaves and dark pink flowers. I could've snagged a piece and no one would have noticed, and in a week it would have grown back... but I didn't. It just doesn't seem right - even though, as a gardener, if someone else felt they'd like some of the geraniums in my front yard, they'd be welcome to nip a small piece for their own. What gets me is that I'll indulge scruples about such things, while allowing sins the size of elephants to sit on my life. Why is that?

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