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The Joy of Crimson

TThis year I've managed to restrain my plant lust. Not only because I hate watching too many purchases sicken on the porch before I get them planted. Also because I had more than enough to do, moving the great plants I already have, that need new homes. Finally, our budget is tight.

But to succeed, a budget must allow some indulgence. When the textile-sweatshop workers of Lawrence struck in 1912 for pay raises their slogan was "Bread and Roses." They defined quality of life as a human need and right, as basic as food.

So I gave myself one shopping trip. It was inspired by my neighbor Karin, who put two galvanized maple-syrup buckets on her front steps, planted with bushy, dark red zonal geraniums, tall white cleome, and a blue-purple torenia, with silvery helichrysum trailing. The red in particular caught my eye from the street, as I was walking by. Against her white house, it blazed a deep crimson.

Until then, I'd never noticed a true crimson in a geranium. Deep rose and cherry tones, yes — also medium-intensity apple-red, and all the hot, orangey spectrum of scarlet. But now I was seeing an intense red, deep and dark, on the bluish side. Karin called it "velvet red," and compared it to the color of a 'Mister Lincoln' rose.

Unfortunately the two she bought — at Central Mass Garden Center — had been the last, and they'd had no ID tags. After some research, Tom Brooks there said he thought they must have been either Oglevee's Sassy Dark Red, from their Euro series; or Simply Beautiful's Designer series Dark Red. In a back area, he found some of both. I begged a flower from Karin's plant, and drove down to compare.

Clearly it was the Simply Beautiful plant: much more crimson — next to it, the Oglevee looked scarlet. But browsing around, I found another geranium even deeper, more crimson: 'Barock' from Fischer: an ivy-leaved form, trailing rather than upright like zonals (named for the dark center of their leaves).

In a cobalt-blue ceramic pot, on the top step of our front walk, 'Barock' has become the sweet spot in the garden: the place my eye turns to first, and returns to last. When frost hits, I'll bring it indoors, to the bay window. From experience I know it'll get leggy, and bloom less — but any of this flower gives me a jolt of joy.

© Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 23 September 2005

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