Geranium madness sets in today and Sunday at the two-day geranium festival at the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum in Arcadia. This once-a-year show and sale attracts hundreds of visitors scrambling for scarce and hard-to-find dwarf, scented, ivy, regal, zonal and species geraniums.
More than any other flower, the geranium typifies sunny Southern California. It blooms magnificently in our moderate weather and produces masses of color year after year despite neglect, drought and lack of appreciation.
Incidentally, the plants that most of us call geraniums really are pelargoniums, a name derived from pelargos, or stork, suggesting a resemblance between the shape of the seed pod and the beak of a stork.
One individual who holds this flower in high esteem is Bill Tufenkian, also known in these parts as Mr. Geranium. He's grown geraniums for the past 30 years, serves as an officer in local and international geranium organizations and maintains a back-yard geranium garden and nursery containing a fascinating collection of common and exotic cultivars.
With the expertise of a professor and the enthusiasm of a pitchman, Tufenkian describes four general groups of pelargoniums: zonal, Martha Washington (or regal), ivy and species. In other parts of the country, zonal pelargoniums, especially salmon and red varieties, are extremely popular for summer window boxes and pots. Here, though, they grow a little too vigorously in the ground, often becoming lanky and unsightly. Too, they are very susceptible to budworms that disfigure blooms during most of the growing season.
Among the best pelargoniums for Southland gardens are the Martha Washingtons, with heart-shaped, serrated leaves and large, loose blossoms, many showing pansylike blotches. In the ground, they spread to 3-foot mounds blooming heavily in spring and summer.
Probably the toughest of all geraniums--and the longest blooming--are the succulent-leafed ivy geraniums. Along the coast, they have been known to return year after year on deserted property and abandoned fences. They make great ground covers, and although they have no tendrils to secure themselves, they can be trained to climb trellises or chain-link fencing. Best of all, ivy geraniums have almost no pests or diseases and get along on minimal water rations.
Sachet and Potpourri
The last group of geraniums is the species, the best known of which are the scented varieties. The growing popularity of sachets and potpourri has fueled a resurgence of interest in scented-leafed geraniums, the scents including lime, lemon, apple, old rose, eucalyptus and peppermint.
Growing geraniums in the ground is a breeze, Tufenkian says, but in pots, it's a whole new ball game. Forget the old advice that geraniums like poor soil and dryness. In pots, they thrive in a light soil (commercial potting soil with perlite added) and need regular feeding with a balanced fertilizer.
The biggest problems with growing geraniums in containers, Tufenkian says, are potting and watering. To leave sufficient space for watering, add soil to within 1 inch of the container top--no higher. Then water the plant thoroughly, allowing the excess to run out the bottom. Don't water again until the plant begins to dry out. To create bushy, symmetrical specimens, pinch out the terminal growth on young branches.
Because he wants to be able to use his scented geraniums in cooking, Tufenkian does not employ chemical insecticides. His favorite spray for whitefly, a common pest on regal and scented species, is Palmolive liquid soap (five to eight drops per gallon of water).
The geranium show and sale at the arboretum opens to visitors at noon, when the judges have finished their awards. If you expect to buy plants, get there early. Geranium collectors from around the state travel here for the new and the unusual.
From Santa Barbara, you'll find a few of the latest zonal-ivy crosses. Also for sale will be dwarfs, rarely found in nurseries and yet such good plants for today's smaller gardens and patios. Imported species from Australia, England and Europe, along with rare regals, will be provided at the sale by members of the Los Angeles branch of the International Geranium Society.
The show will feature pesticide-free scented geraniums and recipes for using them in such foods as cakes, cookies, jellies, candies and vinegars.
Returning by popular demand will be the Mother's Day photo seat, a unique bench surrounded by masses of geranium blooms where you can take a picture of someone special.
The geranium show is from noon to 4 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia. Admission to the gardens is $3 for adults, $1.50 for seniors and students with ID, and 75 cents for children 5-12.
To join the Geranium Society and receive its publication, send $12 to 4610 Druid St., Los Angeles, 90032.