Begonia

The rise in popularity of indoor plants is a phenomena which crept up on me, initially I had just a smattering of requests and would offer Haemanthus albiflos or Pseudopanax lessonii. This was the extent of plants I sold which have the potential to grow indoors. However when the requests changed from a trickle to a flood I realised something had to be done.

I think one of the charms of my nursery and a feature that sets me apart from most others is that I grow nearly all my stock on site, so going out and buying a truck load of Monstera was not an option.

Quite a few years ago I did some work for a long term customer in her Glen iris garden. Growing under the eves at the front of the house in impossibly dry soil was a large and robust cane Begonia.I took a few cuttings. What appealed to me was the plants ability to flourish in the driest shade, not its potential for indoor cultivation. It languished in a corner of my poly tunnel for years. It was this plant (Begonia white chandelier) which gave me the light bulb moment.

On investigating the genus Begonia I discovered a huge, diverse and potentially interesting group of plants spread right around the globe in tropical climates. Begonia has around 1800 species and countless hybrids so the potential to collect is limitless.

Begonia luxurians. I’m a sucker for any plant with big palmate leaves so luxurians had immediate appeal. Whats more I feel certain it will happily grow in the garden.

Finding and then cultivating Begonia in Olinda with nothing more than an unheated poly tunnel has proved challenging but has provided me with some great insights into growing tropicals in a cool climate. The plants I acquired from Victorian collectors have performed much better than those from Queensland even if the same species.

Keeping these plants dry over the winter is critical. Cold and dry seems to be acceptable, cold and wet is certain death. It is also important to over winter them when the pots are full of roots the tighter they are the quicker their recovery A pot thats not full of roots is very difficult to dry out so the plants tend to rot. During the summer months I keep my poly tunnel very humid then feed frequently both roots and foliage.

Over time I will be introducing many more species to the nursery and will have acquired a practical understanding of their cultivation. It goes without saying that I am testing Begonia as garden plants, I think their role as a group of plants useful for dry shade has barely been tested. Its easy to imagine them in a landscape with Clivia, Liriope, Sarcococca and Aucuba

Begonia polonaise. As a rule plants like this one with big soft leaves have difficulty with our cold wet winters and I fully expected this one to succumb but instead it has not stopped growing right through the cold months.

The interest in indoor plants is a good thing, it has given people living in high density areas an insight into the world of plants in all its diversity. Plenty of these collectors are learning plant nomenclature and the complexities of families, genus and species. I chuckle when I see the prices being charged for a plant that can be propagated in a glass of water but time will sort this one out.

Begonia oxyphylla. I think this one may be a very useful garden plant.
Begonia argenteo guttata. A smaller cane variety which has continued to grow since i purchased it a couple of years ago.
Begonia angularis. Another cane which has the potential to grow quite big. This picture doesn’t really capture the true colour of its foliage which is a soft grey with a red reverse.

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