Question from Maria:
I am intriqued by the newer versions of geraniums (such as the ones shown in the Vernon Nursery in England). They are so beautiful! Is there a source for newer varieties of IVY geraniums in the USA?
Answer from Pat:
Unfortunately, your chances of finding European or English varieties of garden geraniums (Vernon’s, for example), and particularly ivy geranium (Pelargonium peltatum) which you mentioned are currently slight. In San Diego County, however, your best chance of finding interesting new geraniums (pelargoniums) is to visit Weidner’s Gardens 695 Normandy Road, Encinitas, CA 92024 just north of Leucadia Blvd in Leucadia, Ca. (You can see it from I-5.) Evelyn Weidner has been traveling the world for many years to find interesting plants to introduce into the United States and grow and sell them both wholesale nationwide and retail at her colorful and unique Leucadia nursery. If you live in Southern California a visit to this nursery should be on your must-do list when you come to San Diego County.
In recent years, however, economics has taken its toll on foreign plant introductions. The exchange rate makes it less economically viable than in past years when the dollar was stronger. Also, styles in plants have dramatically changed. Twenty or thirty years ago pelargoniums were all the rage, but many of the older varieties fall prey to rust and bud worm and most English varieties stop blooming in our summer heat. Nonetheless, plant developers came up with new varieties that were heat and disease-resistant and put on so many flowers that they laughed at budworm. Twenty years ago Fischer in Germany was the developer of many of the heat-resistant varieties of ivy geranium imported into the USA and still so popular today. These are the varieties seen spilling out of window boxes all over Europe. Balcon™ with tiny flowers but massive bloom display is still sold in nurseries today and makes a big and easy splash in the garden.
Then in the USA and in California in particular, drought struck and water restrictions began making gardeners rethink priorities. They wanted drought-resistant plants that would not fall prey to few pests or diseases, bloom their heads off with little care or deadheading, perhaps have lots of colorful leaves too, and cost less than a pelargonium in a one-gallon or 8-inch pot. The economic down-turn also affected the pocket books of gardeners. They wanted a lot for little money.
Garden writers like me told folks they were asking too much. There is no perfect perennial that will live for years, need little water, take no care or pruning, and bloom year round, I kept saying. Actually a few of the old tropicals such as lantana came closest to providing what folks desired. Nonetheless, new companies sprung up in the USA to try to give the public what they wanted. One of the best known is Proven Winners™ and Evelyn Weidner is one of the people who began it. She is still is involved today and thought up that famous name.
Proven Winners™ are sold in tiny sizes, often no larger than 4-inch, and at reasonable cost. Many are easy care and long blooming besides standing up to drought, but pelargoniums are not often part of this new wave of plants. Breeding programs to develop new pelargoniums take much longer and cost much more and pelargoniums are not the big money-makers now so that’s why we see fewer new varieties. Also they don’t bloom until they are pretty large, at least gallon size and better yet in 8-inch pots. Set up a clamor for them, however, and maybe you will win out. I will tell Evelyn you like those Vernon geraniums and maybe next time she goes to England she can hunt them up and introduce some into the USA wholesale nursery market or else just at her nursery. But if they are not heat-resistant, you won’t be pleased with them here. I will let you know later any feedback I get from Evelyn.
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