I used to love petunias and geraniums and all the vivid windowbox flowers whose colours brighten up grey days and grey urban spaces. But I fell out of love with petunias when the ones I was growing in pots on the deck in California developed an infestation of caterpillars. I can’t bear to kill creatures of any sort, but nor am I impressed to see my small gardening efforts reduced to the buffet at a bug-feast.
Later, in the early 90s in Spain, my love of geraniums was sorely tried when there was a plague of butterflies – Cacyreus marshalli – in Madrid. Their larvae bored into the stems of many plants around the city and wreaked havoc with the traditional Mediterranean balcony displays of scarlet flowers bursting between wrought iron railings.
Fortunately, although one was spotted in this area in 2006, the geranium bronze butterfly has been unable to establish permanent colonies in the UK and is only considered a low risk on the UK Plant health risk register, so I think the pots in the yard are relatively safe for the moment.
The petunias may well be at greater risk, and I can’t help but flinch when I have to walk under the stems trailing from the magnificent hanging baskets that are currently on display around the town.
I don’t know whether the local Council have been coordinating the neighbours, or whether there was a special offer on certain plants this year, but every hanging basket in the town seems to be flaunting orange begonias and rich pink petunias, combined with the occasional salmon pink geranium and trailing something-or-other.
Flowers are almost always thought of as feminine, and, if asked, I think most of us would instinctively say that their voices would be correspondingly soft and gentle.
Having given it some thought, though, as I’ve ducked under hanging baskets and skirted round overflowing windowboxes, I’m reminded that when I wrote this piece many years ago, I’d already decided they were more likely to be busy, brash and slightly vulgar.
The Language of Flowers
Nineteen to the dozen, geraniums
leaning from their window boxes
to get a better view.
Pansies nod and smile, exchanging
pleasantries with passersby.
Shocking pink petunias
shout aloud, while pompom marigolds,
in shades of summer, shine
like a myriad cartoon suns.