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 Diary  2009
A year in the life of an Amateur Begonia Grower

Basil Billinger

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 INTRODUCTION
   My home is at Nailsea, North Somerset, mid way between Bristol and Weston-super- Mare. I have been growing begonias for five years and in that time my enthusiasm has been encouraged by many NBS members.
   My main aim is to grow for pleasure. The tuberous begonias are grown as single stem and I am particularly interested in pendulas and multifloras, especially with many new varieties coming on stream.
   I am not really interested in showing but do support our Area Show at Bideford. That being said the showmen (are there any ladies?) are the life blood of the NBS. Their encouragement and advice over the years has greatly improved my growing and enjoyment. Many of the techniques and tips I use are down to them.
   I started off growing in a small, narrow cedar wood greenhouse and after extending it, I realised that the only way to improve my growing and facilities was to invest in a new greenhouse. This was done three years ago, with all mod cons.
   My facilties are limited, as I suspect are many of our members. I hope over the coming months to show you how I, hopefully, make the best of what space I have.
   I will share with you the ups and downs, high and lows of the coming year. Hopefully, more of the former. Above all, my aim is to enjoy my growing irrespective of the results. I trust that my comments will be of interest to you. Do enjoy your growing in the coming year.

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 DECEMBER
  
1st December saw the first really hard frost of the winter, that is until just before Christmas. Then came the stuff, with temperatures down to -7oc, that’s around 19of in “real money”. Just a covering of snow, but still picturesque at times. This time of year there is not too much going on, but it is still an important time. Get it right now and next season should be off to a flying start.
  


A

B

C

D

(A)  With one side of the greenhouse completely clear it is chance to do a bit of early spring cleaning, or in my case painting. All the staging on one side was given a coat of paint and, hopefully, later, the other side will get the same treatment. In the New Year, I thoroughly disinfect and then fumigate, before any plants and cuttings are returned.
(B) This is how the other half of the greenhouse looks just before Christmas. The majority of the tubers have gone over, the cold weather helped dramatically. However, these still hang on. I place them on their sides to hopefully expedite the stem removal. At nights they have a generous covering of fleece as I do not heat. All the other tubers have been ripened and cleaned off. No sign of any vine weevil whatsoever. Not quite correct, as a basket I gave out that did not get “the treatment” was riddled with VW grubs. This is the third year that a combination of Provado and moth balls has worked. It must be a winner. 
(C) The main tubers have been stored away in the integral garage adjacent to the central heating boiler. I store in Irish Moss Peat as the temperature must plunge at night. However, in one cat litter tray I have used Vermiculite. The shape of things to come? Irish Peat is almost impossible to obtain around here. Gardeners are being more environmental so the peat hangs around two or even more seasons and as a result it is not being stocked. One garden centre told me that as a result, power stations in Ireland are burning peat, as it is better for the environment, and takes up producer’s spare capacity. Interesting. 
(D) About 50% of my cutting tubers have gone over and this is how I store them. The tubers are left in the pots until the end of January/February before I harvest them and plant within a couple of weeks. The crates are stored on the top shelf of the garage until that time.

   Begonias are now getting more fashionable and four out six of the top selling plants in garden centres this year have been begonias. The top seller being Sherbet Bon Bon. In the lull before the New Year it is an opportunity to look back at some of MY highlights of the past year. 


E

F

G

H

(E)  What was the best exhibit at the shows? Sorry bloom growers, but as a pot grower, it has to be a plant. Lots of contenders and the National produced two outstanding candidates. The hanging basket of Isabella shown by Ken Wilkes and a pot of Le Madelon by Dave Staines. However my top pot went to Lakin Earl for this Helena shown at the Rose and Sweet Pea Show at Garden World, Burnham on Sea. It was stunning and took all the accolades. Even more remarkable was the date, Sunday 13th June. He followed this up with a pot of Whispers that was best at the National. What a grower. 
(F) 
Thanks to Cliff Parker from South Wales I visited the South Coast show at Portchester on 1st August. It was an arduous journey but well worth the effort. A “stand alone” begonia show of high quality. Had the pleasure of meeting for the first time, Brian Simmons our Editor, who does so much for the Society. Here is Brian receiving an award from Gary Dando. This visit was a real high for me this summer. 
(G)
Mentioning Gary Dando, I went to visit him towards the end of August. Initially I couldn’t find him and went down to the greenhouse to seek him out. Then in the bottom shade house that houses his foliage plants, he emerged almost submerged by the greenery. It was quite an astonishing sight. There were some magnificent plants that have been featured on the website.  
(H) August Bank Holiday weekend saw the Clevedon Show, North Somerset, staged on the sea front. For the last four years Tony Willoughby, with back up from me with plants, has exhibited in the club and society section. There has been much stress and strain over these past years, coupled with a few laughs I may add. Finally Tony achieved a first. It was so well deserved. I hope he now will rest on his laurels, but somehow I do not think so.

   So that’s it folks. The diary is over. I hope you have learnt from some of the ups and downs of basically an amateur grower, certainly not an avid showman, but appreciative of the standards displayed on the show bench. For someone starting off, go along to a show. Talk to the growers. You will find them only too willing to help and advise and their enthusiasm will be infectious.

   In my view this has been my best season ever. I don’t say this every year, as the second year complacency must have set in, and it went down hill. When I started growing five years ago I was told begonias were difficult to grow. That is not so. They are however, challenging I agree, and that I what I like. It is a small step from growing OK begonias to producing something that little bit special. I have almost reached that stage in my opinion, but this would not have been possible but for membership of the National Begonia Society and the friendships I have built up over the years. Wishing you all the best for 2010 season.

Many thanks Basil for an excellrnt series, I know your efforts have been much appreciated by our viewers.   Brian Simmons   

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January & February          March          April & May          June & July     August & September
October & November

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OTHER PAGES BY BASIL BILLINGER
Begonias at the Rose & Sweet Pea Show
A Spring Visit to the South West Area Representative's Greenhouses          Garden Begonias
Begonia trail through the Mendips          October Begonias
A Spring Visit to B&L 2007          B&L March 2008          B&L May 2008          B&L Chelsea Preview May 2009 

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