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Special flower for a special year Tonette Lyles | Sat, May 07 2011 12:00 PM

The Chula Vista Garden Club earlier this year introduced a specially cultivated geranium in honor of Chula Vista's centennial.

The Chula Vista City Council voted the drought tolerant and pest free flower as the official centennial flower to be sold in Chula Vista at various venues all year long. The donated geranium is a cross between a garden variety basic geranium and an ivy leaf geranium. The geranium will be prominently displayed throughout Chula Vista.

"The Chula Vista Garden Club got involved because the garden club is there to help with beautification and the purpose is to propagate and enhance gardens at the school level and for personal gardens," said Gloria Bunch of the Chula Vista Garden Club.

The garden club, in an effort to join the city in centennial fever and to do some fundraising, wanted to offer something special to the Chula Vista community. To do this they contacted the Geranium Society which put them in contact with Jim Zemcik of Point Loma, a breeder and gardener who developed and donated the Kate Sessions and Santa Maria geraniums for their city events with much success.

Zemcik looks at donating the flowers he creates to cities as a gift.

"They do something worthwhile with it," Zemcik said.

The flower usually named for the city to which it is given is an opportunity for the city to showcase the flower at a time when the city is being highlighted.

Zemcik does it to help cities with fundraising and celebrations such as Chula Vista's centennial.

He is in high demand to release his colorful ground cover flowers and when Chula Vista rang he had the perfect gift.

"I was under pressure from growers, commercial guys, buyers from some of the big companies that wanted to sell the flowers and wanted me to release the flower, and so when Chula Vista came along it was the perfect time. I said, 'Hot rod! Let's go,'" Zemcik said.

For more than 40 years the geranium has been the Chula Vista city flower. The flower flourishes in the Southern California climate with only one disadvantage - it develops fungus and pests easily.

Zemcik planted more than 3,000 seeds to develop the geranium and worked several years with the flower, crossing it with ivy leaf geraniums perfecting a plant that would prohibit pests and rust, a fungus that resembles rust in color and texture. The fungus plagues the flowers for the same reason it grows so well - the climate.

"I worked crossing plants for about 10 years; it's like having kids, they all look a little different and inherit different looks. You just keep going until you get what you are looking for," Zemcik said.

The Chula Vista centennial geranium was to be sold during the April 30 Historic Home Tour and at the Cinco de Mayo event in Chula Vista, among other places.

"We will be selling the geranium throughout the year, we will be at the Lemon Festival, Harbor Day, we will be with the community and celebrating with the community all year long," Bunch said.

"The Chula Vista Garden Club sees the geranium as a lovely way to become a part of the city," Bunch said.

For more information about the Chula Vista centennial geranium contact the Chula Vista Garden Club at www.cvgardennews@gmail.com.

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