In 2013 I was responsible for the trial and review of over 50 of the leading Begonia varieties from both the past and present with a view to seeing how this fabulous group of plants could be revived.
As you might imagine, species to species, Begonia have very different parts to play in garden designs displaying a variety of forms, habits and colours. There really is a plant characteristic to suit all garden aspects and planting situations. The floral performance on a single variety can change immensely throughout the growing season, turning from light yellow into vibrant peach as the next layers of petals fully open. So full of surprises and definitely under appreciated!
Watching Begonias mature from tiny tubers or small plug plants into their final brazen, bold and often blousy form gives me great satisfaction. I was asked to blog about my favourite varieties from last year. It was difficult to name a single variety so I have given my favourite from the various groups which I reviewed. I have tried to take into account ease of maintenance, unusual characteristics, attractiveness and garden worthiness.
Upright, or ‘on tops’ as they are referred to at Thompson & Morgan display their double blooms on the tops of the stems held proud of the foliage. This means the floral impact is maximised and the flowers remain facing up through the summer. These varieties particularly suit pots which are placed at ground level. The main challenge with uprights is to ensure the water reaches inside of the foliage without running off due to the quantity of leaves and flowers! My favourite from this category would definitely have to be begonia ‘Patio Apricot Shades’ which added a touch of tropical with its double orange, yellow and red double flowers.
Trailing types: I have always been a big fan of trailing begonia due to the ease in which they produce a globe shape without the need for me to pinch them or cut back. The fact that these plants are now available scented is a definite plus as you can really appreciate the fragrance up close at head height. Begonia Fragrant Falls Improved™, which was bred at Thompson & Morgan is a breakthrough for this type of Begonia, although scented Begonia have been around for a while, the trailing habit has always been limited due to short flower stems (or peduncles as they are otherwise known). Fragrant Falls benefits from long flower stalks (peduncles) and fully double blooms. The scent increases with petal numbers so this was of particular interest to the breeder during the selection phase.
Half-hardy perennial type from seed: Begonia ‘Pink Showers’ – begonia x weltoniensis. Although it appeared to be flower shy in the early part of the trial the foliage was a real talking point. Looking almost prehistoric, the maple-like canopy which is heavily serrated and veined and covered in white specks. This variety really came to life end of August through to September as the temperature dropped. An asset to the garden in autumn when all other lights are starting to go out!
If I absolutely must choose an overall winner… Begonia ‘Love Birds’ would fall into that ‘extra special’ group of its own. Its floral form and uniqueness along with length of bloom and impact make this a winner of garden plant. I fell in love with the unusual bi-colour and feminine flower form which most visitors likened to powder puffs. The basket was still flowering in mid October after what had been a very damp month and with no sign of mildew! Super plant, highly recommended.