US flower show puts YU geranium in spotlight

March 2, 2000

(Rtr) - A humble geranium plucked from a remote mountainside in the war-torn landscape of the former Yugoslavia is about to be transplanted to the center of the world's horticultural stage.

The Philadelphia Flower Show will host the international debut of the bud known as "geranium phaeum Samobar," which has come to be viewed as a symbol of courage and perseverance since being discovered by British plant doyenne and gardening author Elizabeth Strangman.

"One can imagine her dodging bullets as she botanized, oblivious to her dangers," said Jackie Reardon, coordinator of the show's Gold Medal Awards exhibit, where the flower will be shown as a new perennial.

"The name of the area may have changed to Bosnia, but Strangman said at the time she found the perennial geranium a few years ago, that she was in Croatia."

With large, rough-textured, maple-like leaves marked by unusual purple blotches, the Samobar geranium blossoms in June to produce delicate pink flowers on 15-to-18 inch (38 to 45 cm) stems.

"It'll take full sun and blistering heat, but seems to accept shade equally well with less foliage color," Reardon said.

A Prime Minister Gardening Event

Billed as the world's premier gardening event, the Philadelphia Flower Show opens March 5 for a week-long annual run under the banner, "Gardens for the New Millennium."

Along with the Samobar, the show will introduce a "Chocolate Chip" ajuga which resembles melted chocolate on a cookie and a "Red Dragon" persicaria, which features burgundy leaves with silver markings.

The Philadelphia Flower Show may have begun as a relatively small affair in 1829, when the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society held the first exhibit. But over the ensuing 171 years, it has surpassed some of the largest European shows, offering 33 indoor acres (13 hectares) of blooming gardens, specimen plants, topiary, artistic flower arrangements and miniature garden scenes.

"What is different with the PHS show is the enormous amateur exhibitors area," said Jane Pepper, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Scottish-born president.

"The English are such dedicated gardeners. About 10 or 12 years ago, some officials from the Chelsea show came over. I think they thought they were going to a little show in the colonies," she said.

The growth of the annual program is due partly to donations from corporate sponsors that help provide part of the show's $5 million production budget.

A portion of the show's revenues, expected this year to reach $6 million, help to support hundreds of low-to-moderate income groups from Philadelphia who use gardening projects to beautify abandoned lots as well as inner-city streets and parks.

Amateurs From Around The World

The hundreds of thousands of people expected at the event will see some 500 exhibitors, many of them amateurs from around the world, in categories ranging from miniature settings to orchids, rare plant specimens, Bonsai, roses and collections.

An artistic competition encompasses several categories including a pressed plants class that utilizes dried materials. That alone has attracted a dozen Japanese entrants.

"I got a fax from a woman in Japan who said her group is crazy about pressed plant pictures," Pepper said. "Thirty-seven of them are coming over ... and then going on to San Francisco before heading home to Japan. They will be looking at their industry competition in the pressed-plants division."

One-hundred-thirty vendors will sell bulbs, birdhouses, gardening clothes, orchids, Bonsai, unique pots and plants, seeds, flowers, tools, topiaries, and lighting and water systems.

The Gold Medal category that features the Samobar geranium is a new feature for the Philadelphia Flower Show, intended as a kind of product endorsement for gardeners who live within the climate area of the U.S. Mid-Atlantic states, which runs from New England to Washington.

The Gold Medal program is the product of rigorous testing by horticultural experts for ease of care, beauty, disease resistance and hardiness.

"The public will be assured, when choosing a plant designated as a Gold Medal winner, that they are acquiring a plant they can depend on," said Reardon.

The gold medal exhibit, staffed by volunteers from the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association, is also largely devoted to promoting woody plants

Among the more than 50 plants assigned to the Gold Medal category will be the introduction of a "Dream Rose" collection made up of hybrid tea roses that are beautiful, fragrant and pest resistant, with a bloom period lasting all summer and into the autumn.

A new "flower carpet" variety, sometimes referred to as a shrub rose and characterized by a tolerance for shade, will also be introduced in the Gold Medal category. The breed of red roses, with gold centers, is often used as a ground cover.

Another featured showcase will be the "Knock Out" All-American Rose Selection for 2000, which is a bright cherry red and has the benefit of being disease and pest resistant.

Original article