In chapter 17, when Bob Ewell is called to the witness stand during the trial, Harper Lee provides a page-long description of the Ewell property. The place is behind the town garbage dump and looks like an extension of the dump. The yard contains various types of junk, from an old car on blocks to a dentist's chair to an old icebox. Smaller items are strewn around the place. But there is one part of the yard that contrasts with the ugliness of the rest of the property:
Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums.
Surprisingly, these flowers, though planted in old "slop jars" rather than flower pots, were well-cared-for. Everyone assumed that Mayella was the one who had planted and meticulously tended the geraniums. As the oldest daughter in the motherless family, she would be the only one of the unruly children likely to take on such a task.
These geraniums give an important insight into Mayella, making her a more sympathetic character than she might otherwise be. Her conduct during the trial could cause readers to despise her, but knowing that she had tried to make her ugly corner of the world more beautiful despite such daunting obstacles helps readers respond to Mayella with greater forbearance. She needed someone to tend her as lovingly as she tended her flowers, but she only had a vicious and abusive father.