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CULTURAL DIARY   2018
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Tony Shepherdson

National Begonia Society Champion 12 Cut Blooms 2017
British Begonia Champion 12 Cut Blooms 2017

Episode 13 – mid August

Quite a few years ago, an old work colleague of mine who was just about the most fanatical golfer you could ever meet, eventually took his turn as Club Captain. At the end of his big year, I couldn’t resist ribbing him; you know the sort of things – yesterday’s man, losing your Captains parking spot etc. – but he just looked at me in disbelief and said No! I am now the Immediate Past Captain! Well, I think Immediate Past National Champion has quite a nice ring to it!
Congratulations to Phil Champion, thoroughly deserved winner with a memorable 12 board – see below left, with 4 superb Sweet Dreams, one on each corner, best pink with Falstaff and best white or cream with Symestar. He also won the 6 board that included best picotee or bi-colour with Bali Hi. Earlier in the year, Phil had me looking forward to seeing his Mrs. E McLauchlan as he told me that he thought he had the measure of it and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed when I saw the one he had on his 12 board – below middle. It’s a variety that I really like, but I stopped growing it only because I couldn’t quite achieve the required size, so perhaps now I need to think again!
He also won best red with Linda Jackson in the single board. Now you may think, why put a potential best bloom contender in the single board – and you would be right, but the photo below right may give you a clue. At first glance, you may wonder why there is a half pint of beer stood in front of it, well I don’t drink halves, it’s a pint; it just looks like a half because the bloom had to be close to12 inches across, which is why it wasn’t on his 12 board – it was just too big, however the proportions were spot on, clean with no sign of coarseness and a good neat centre!  

                               

I was delighted with the runner’s up spot in the 12 board – below left and also best orange with one of my favourite varieties, Tequila Sunrise – below right. Actually I was just delighted to be there with flowers because if the weather hadn’t cooled down a bit the weekend before and stayed cool until cutting I really would have struggled. As it turned out, the 29 blooms that I took were just about the last of the 86 that were secured for Shrewsbury but by the Wednesday evening before the show I knew that I had made it which meant that I wasn’t as nervous on the Thursday as I normally am. 

                

Best bloom went to Robert Bryce with Moira Callan – below. He tipped this variety a few years back to be a winner and said it was the best new variety he had seen in many years and on it’s current run of good form no one will argue with that! 

 

After wasting far too much time thinking up various ridiculously over-complicated methods to make my boxes more secure in the car, I eventually settled for a low-tech solution and it worked perfectly – below left. I even remembered that I would have to remove them in the dark and so was well prepared with my head torch and screwdriver at the ready, below right! 

              

Around the show
It’s great that a flower show can bring people with a common obsession from all over the country together at the same time, it’s just a pity that there aren’t more opportunities because I personally feel that I learn so much by talking and listening to other exhibitors, not to mention meeting up with friends for a good natter.
I had a great time reminiscing with George Hawkins about our time growing chrysanthemums. When you think about it, there are quite a few chrysanthemum growers who have defected to begonias and I for one have few regrets. If you could squeeze 36 hours into a day and 12 days into a week I might even manage to grow both flowers (not to mention the extra space I would need) but in truth, for all of the complaints we have about the weather right now, at least for me I don’t miss the devastating effect the wind sometimes has on the plants when they first went out onto the standing ground, or the thought of wearing a hat, coat and scarf for a long evening session in the greenhouse in early November in the run up to the shows, and especially staging in freezing cold conditions during the night – I really must be getting soft because it didn’t bother me one bit back in the day!
Here are a few photos from the trophy presentations in the afternoon – apologies to anyone who I have missed. Below from left –
Phil Champion, Steve Jones, Peter Sourbutts, Joy Dando, Gary Dando and Robert Bryce. 

                             
         

Dundee plants
Monday 20th August – see below – and it feels like ‘Deja vu all over again’, as the famous American baseball player Yogi Berra once said, but he also said ‘It ain’t over ‘til it’s over’, so I’ll just keep going with everything crossed! Ten whole days to go until cutting for Dundee and I seem in a more precarious position than I was for Shrewsbury, but at least the temperatures for the run in look favourable, so coupled with the reducing day length (yes, I’m really clutching at straws now) it’s as much as I can hope for. 

 

I had some concerns at bud securing time that the top leaves on some plants were underdeveloped and the blooms on these plants seem to be confirming my fears at this stage. I will experiment with an additional high potash feed for these plants as there appears to be nothing to lose, but ideally I need to learn from this experience and be more observant in the run up to bud securing from now on. Colour run seems to be almost absent which is always welcome news.
Before I exhibited my first 12 board, I was told on more than one occasion that one of the most difficult things about getting a really competitive entry for the British Championship was the ‘extra variety’. This is because where other 12 board classes require a minimum of eight varieties, the British is for a minimum of nine and although this may not seem that significant, anyone who has tried will tell you different. It’s not just a case of having that ninth variety, it has to be up to the standard of the rest of your board and everyone who has exhibited in this class will tell you how challenging it can sometimes be. Please, please don’t be put off by this; it’s a great thing to be part of – and very addictive! 

Seedlings
To be honest I am a bit disappointed. The majority have produced blooms that are smaller than last year when they were only first year seedlings – I suppose this is an example of what is commonly called hybrid vigour.
The primary criteria that I had planned to gauge them by were:  

●    An even, circular outline
●    A very good centre
●    The centre in the middle of the bloom – sounds like another Yogi Berra quotation but you know what I mean!

These to me, after talking to growers with lots of hybridising knowledge seems to be absolute must haves, even before you start to look at form, size and colour. Well, none of those that I selected to grow on had anything to get excited about and sadly none of them will be kept for next year. One or two looked as if they were going to be really exciting colour breaks as the oyster opened –
when Colin saw one of them he couldn't believe it was a Powder Puff and Tom Brownlee cross. Sadly the colour faded from what believe it or not looked something like a green and mauve bi-colour to a dull pink as the bloom matured and ended up a disappointment like the rest of them. 

                               

Cuttings
Within a couple of days after getting back from the show, I had topped all of the plants that had flowered, binned the ones that had issues and moved those that I am keeping a little bit closer together. The extra space created allowed me to move the balance of my Dundee plants out of the Alton which then meant I could move the cuttings that were on the floor up onto the benches to give them some better light. I also removed most of the fleece from inside the glass to improve it even further. Hopefully this will give them a good run in to the autumn months and produce some decent tubers for next year. 

A mystery solved!
Have you ever wondered why they put all those holes in the middle of building bricks? A recent begonia inspired discovery of mine has revealed the answer!

 

What’s keeping me awake at night?
I’m confident that I am no different from any other begonia grower when it comes to ‘The List’ – what are my bankers and how many to grow of each one, which varieties are on the endangered list and what is top of the wanted list. Well, we arrived home from Shrewsbury around 2.30 on the Saturday afternoon and I admit that I had been thinking about ‘The List’ on the drive home. I was in through the front door and out into the garden in seconds. First a quick look in the Shrewsbury greenhouse, just to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything – as usual, on the drive down on Thursday evening I kept fretting about this – then it was a quick check of the Dundee plants before I started watering.
After a couple of hours of pottering around, I got the laptop out and sat down with a brew to make a start on this episode. Once I had done as much as I could, I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer so I started a new spreadsheet titled ‘2019 List’. A couple of hours later (time really does fly when you are having fun) it was done. I didn’t realise I could be so ruthless, but I am now down to 28 varieties from this current years 40 – well that’s until I do version 2, which will then obviously change quite a bit in version 3 and so on and so on – you all know what I mean don’t you?

 

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