A year in the life of an Amateur Begonia Grower
In my past experience this month is all rather hectic. Not so this
year as the cutting tubers, being so small, were planted last month. The
weather has been the dominant topic. The first substantial snow fall
that the greenhouse has experienced and the automatic roof vents opening
for the first time in 2009.
The month was heralded in with snow, three consecutive days, which
is very rare in the South West. This hung around for a week before the
final wet snow fall, and next day it had all thawed. It was rather
picturesque and at the same time surreal in the greenhouse on my daily
visit to wipe off the condensation from the propagator covers. The
second half of the month was quite spring like.
(C) A selection of the named pendulas that have been over wintered
in the garage utilising cat litter trays and peat. I rarely have any
problems in keeping pendulas. The only one that causes troubles is
Chandelier. No different this year as half a tuber had withered away but
the other half is sound and will survive. However, as it grows quite
“cabbage like”, it is not one of my favourites.
(D) Pendulas, prior to planting up. To the top left are Firedance, many
of these are 2007 tubers. I am surprised on how much growth they have
made. Some have already started piping. Should make a good display this
year. I do not bother to heat treat pendulas before planting, just
putting them in a mixture of peat and Perlite suitably moistened.
(E) Valentine’s Day was celebrated in
the traditional style by planting pendulas! Three trays in propagators
and one in a cat litter tray, unheated. I like to plant around mid
February to give an opportunity to take cutting and as a result produce
better and more rounded baskets. More about this later. I have obtained
some replacement Flamboyant tubers from Parkers, Manchester and also
three more Champagne from a garden centre (Taylor’s Bulbs). Some of the
old Flamboyant are now small football size and are running out of steam.
I forgot to take any cuttings last year. I have various different
strains of Champagne, some of dubious quality, so I’m starting again.
These are my foliage begonias, bar one! I just cannot over winter
them with my facilities. The greenhouse is not heated, in the house it
is too warm and arid at times and although I have managed to previously
keep a couple in the conservatory, this year, with plunging temperatures
at night, they have failed. The large pot is/was Tiger Paws that has
been a treat over the last three years. See Clevedon Show 2009 write up
to see it in its full glory. Luckily I took four cuttings that are
struggling along. I pin my hopes this year on a Bowerii Tiger cutting
obtained from Lakin Earl. Very similar to Tiger Paws but a bit more
luscious. I really do admire foliage begonias and those grown by The
Taskers, Vince Potts et al are tremendous. I wish I could do them
(G) This is my “full set” of propagators. Must admit they are not all
begonias. There are two trays of cabbage and lettuce hidden among them.
Soon as they germinate they will be moved off. All the covers are wiped
clean each morning which is quite a pleasant chore and you see what
progress, or not, is being made.
(H) Talk about progress, these are the pea sized cutting tubers put in
the last week of January. Within ten day the first signs of the new
season sprung into life. Beverley B and Apricot Loveliness being the
first to show, closely followed by Jenny Barclay. The purists may hate
this but I have rooted around in the modules and I have lost twenty
tubers which is pleasing. The remainder, not showing, are starting to
pip and are firm and solid. I also corrected those that had been planted
Many of these are overdue for their first pots and are no doubt a bit
root bound. Problem is that the Bulrush compost I intend to use again is
not yet in. This is now imminent I am told. The greenhouse is
chock-a-block with begonias and pleiones down one side and daffodils,
being grown for the first time, on the other. Space is getting to be at
This month has seen the lowest temperatures for many years but
the days have been brightened by above average sunshine in the South
West. I find January quite an exciting “begonia month” as this is when I
see what success I have had with my cutting tubers.
The greenhouse is an Elite, customised by the Incredibly Sensible
Greenhouse Company, based in Winford, Bristol The size is 14’ x 8’ and
includes roof and side vents (fixed low), all automatically controlled,
hanging basket rails and electricity installed. The most fortuitous
feature is the back door which is essential to keep the air flow going
during the summer months.
(B) To the rear are my water storage facilities, being four slim
line water butts. Last year I had no need to use mains water in the
greenhouse whatsoever. I hope that is possible this year as I have just
gone on to a water meter. To the left, is a portable greenhouse lean-to
which at present stores all my necessary “bits and pieces” but it comes
into its own later on in the year.
(C) From the inside you will see that the greenhouse is not
insulated except on the right hand side behind the curtain. If heat is
used, I confined it to ⅓ of the area. Why waste heat? The bubble
insulation lasted three years before disintegrating and having to be
replaced last year. The staging was made to my specification by my
friend and fellow begonia grower, Tony Willoughby. In hindsight the only
thing I would have done different in the overall greenhouse installation
would have been to have the staging free standing rather than fixed to
make sterilisation and husbandry easier.
(D) My house has a small integral garage which is essential to my
begonia growing. This is where I over winter my tubers and also my
cutting tubers. I store in Irish peat moss (getting more difficult to
find) and the tubers are placed in cat litter trays, drilled. The trays
are placed just under the central heating boiler and this has proved
most effective over the last three year. Before this, I stored in paper
bags in the house and the garage loft, and had many losses. I check over
from time to time. Recently I went through them and found I had lost one
B. Elizabeth Lee and half of a B. Beverley B. The latter was cleaned
off, dusted with sulphur and hopefully it will make it.
Compost is always a matter for continued debate. I try to keep things
simple by using a quality brand, sticking to it, and getting to know it.
There are a number of local composts around, all predominately sedge
peat based, from the Somerset Levels. However, I came across this
Godwins peat, now stored on the garage floor, which is a mix a sphagnum
peat, sedge peat, Perlite and nutrients. Growers of old have rated it
highly so I’m going to use it this year in baskets and containers. I
plan to use Bulrush again for my tuberous begonias if it is available.
(F) This is my propagating area in the greenhouse. You will see a
Parwin heater that I have never used for heating, only ventilation in
the summer months. This may change this year due to earlier planting. I
tend to grow in cool conditions as this improves the root system and
does not draw the plants in the early stages of growth. The propagators
have evolved in numbers over the years and last year I obtained a three
tray propagator with a variable temperature control.
(G) The cutting tubers were very small this year, pea sized
rather than walnut size as in 2008. As a result I planted them on 22/23
January rather than the first weeks of February as previously. I plant
then in 24 section modules, five trays, equals 120 cuttings,
supplemented by a few from my begonia friends around the county. The
medium I use is a mix of Irish peat moss and Perlite. The covers are
taken off daily and wiped clean.
(H) I have had reasonable success with seeds but quite frankly it
is too much trouble for my requirements. However, to the bottom right is
a tray of bulbils B. gracilis martiana (hollyhock begonia), from Dennis
Need. The one mature cutting is B. Kookaburra taken on 1st September
last year from a plant given me on that day by Ron Haines of Radstock. I
have trouble over wintering foliage plants with the exception of B.
Tiger Paws which has done me proud over two years. Not this year though,
as it has succumbed to the usual plight. Before cutting it down in an
attempt to revive I took four cuttings that look quite good.
So far the month has gone well with no disasters, just one minor hiccup.
That was discovering that a mouse had taken up winter residence in the
greenhouse. It has been humanely trapped and released back to its friend
outside. I bet it does not thank me for that with this cold weather
January & February
March April & May
June & July
August & September
October & November
BY BASIL BILLINGER
Begonias at the Rose & Sweet Pea Show
A Spring Visit to
the South West Area Representative's Greenhouses
trail through the Mendips
A Spring Visit to B&L 2007
B&L March 2008
B&L May 2008
B&L Chelsea Preview May