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Failure to Communicate


“Do you have geraniums?”

“Pelargonium or cranesbill?”

“Sorry?”

“Er, Pelargonium or cranesbill.”

“No, I’m not interested in birds. I want a geranium. Got any red ones?”

“Exactly. I was just explaining that what you call a geranium is actually a Pelargonium.”

“Then why don’t they call it that?”

“Well, it’s sometimes called a storksbill.”

“Like I said, I don’t wanna bird.”

“No, I’m just saying that cranesbills and storksbills are two different things.”

“Especially to their mamas.”

“Though actually, they come from the same family.”

“Look, ya got any red ones?”

“What I mean is that they both belong to the Family Geraniaceae.”

“Oh, Italians, huh?”

“No, it…what?”

“I know that family. They were on the cable show, right? Except they were singers, I think”

“I don’t know about that. It’s just odd, you know, that the Family name is taken from Geranium, the Genus.

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly call ’em geniuses.”

“You’d expect it to be the other way around, wouldn’t you?”

“I’d expect to walk into a flower shop and walk out with a geranium, if I could get a genius to speak in English.”

“I mean, it’s one thing to name a Genus after a Family, but quite another to name a Family after a Genus. Doesn’t make sense.”

“And neither do you. I’m outta here.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. So you want a Pelargonium?”

“Are you messin’ with me?”

“I mean geranium! Geranium! I’m just telling you that what you think of as a geranium is really a Pelargonium. But you’re perfectly welcome to call it a geranium. If that’s what you, uh, want to, uh, call it.”

(Pause.)
“Get me the manager.”

“Okay. But she’ll tell you the same thing.”

“You mean she’ll want to sell me a bird, too?”

“No, she’ll tell you that it’s important to be specific in the horticultural world.”

“And that’s where I’m going to get my plant–‘Horticultural World,’ down the block.”

“Please. You want a red…geranium. Correct?”

“See? That wasn’t so hard. And a black-eyed Susan.”

“Rudbeckia?”

“What did you call me?”

“I, um…Rudbeckia?”

“If you think I’m rude now–”

“No! You don’t understand. That’s just the genus. Of the, uh, black- eyed Susan.”

“Another one of your genius friends.”

“Please, please. I’m doing my best.”

“I’d say you were at 25 percent.”

“Honestly. I just got my PhD in ‘Etymological origins of botanical nomenclature and its practical applications in the 21st Century.’”

(Pause)
“Really.”

“Family, Genus, Species. Honestly, it’s the only way I can think and talk about them. The plants, I mean.”

“Uh huh.”

“And, of course, Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class and Order. You know. Dumb King Phillip Came Over From Greece Smiling…? The old mnemonic device?”

“Pneumatic?”

“This is the only job I could find.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“Please don’t report me.”

“I want a red one.”

“Coming right up. Can I put a bow around it?”

“I think you just did.”

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I keep seeing photos of interesting plants I’d like to grow, but they’re labeled zone 6 and I’m in zone 5. What can I do to successfully overwinter these marginal plants? I’d like to try them, but I don’t want to waste my money.

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