The National Begonia Society


2015 Diary

Michael Richardson

Episode 2. Some background

   I have been growing begonias for “Cut Blooms” for a number of years and have made a lot of great friendships and met and lost some great people along the way. Part of the love of growing begonias for me is the showing side of it. It’s nice to get a prize card however, for me its social side of the showing I enjoy the most: especially the camaraderie and humour between the growers who are also exhibiting. I am also appreciative to how helpful everyone is no matter how “great” the grower is. I have no revolutionary ground breaking growing techniques to dazzle you with, just my take on what I have learnt by reading, probing, watching and by my own mistakes over the years.

   The one thing that held me back at the start was - Glass envy – yes I have said it, that’s what I suffered from for years. How could I compete with fellow growers who could grow 150 to 300 plants or more under glass? My Doctor could not cure me of this affliction, however a good chat with Alan Bryce sure did. I eventually found a way that worked for me and over the next year I will try and explain how you too can do it; with a bit of luck on your side you will be able to compete to get amongst the prize cards or better still beat them – kind of modern day David versus Goliath if you like!

   The main problem you have with a small set up is you cannot play the percentage game, every plant must count. Hopefully, along the way I might be able to inspire a few more to keen growers to show their prize blooms.

   The Southport Flower Show was my first competitive entry into the world of exhibiting many moons ago and I have shown there for many a year since. Last year I competed in the ‘National’, which for me was the pinnacle of amateur growing; but then what happens to the local show? I feel that as a society of keen growers we should not let the local shows die out. To obtain a sense of balance I spread my plants across two shows:
       a.) local show as we have to keep them going.
       b.) ‘National’ to improve one’s growing and to show against the best of the best.

   There is another part of growing which I find just as exciting which is travelling, to meet both growers in their homes and view their greenhouses and to the actual flower shows. I could say that Bert Nelson or John Hamilton must dread the Scottish Begonia Meetings as Vincent Potts, Robert Bryce and the late Les Smith always invade both of their abodes on our way to the Scottish meetings. We have gate crashed our way into Ronnie Walsh’s greenhouse and surveyed his kingdom as well as Jim Evans in Clackmannan. We even went to the Flower show in Penicuik to get into John Irvine's greenhouse. So as you see distance is no object when we have our Sunday outings – It also helps to have an understanding partner.

   On a more contentious issue it’s surprising how often I hear people say “I have better flowers in the greenhouse at home”. We all have better flowers but when you move them around, cut, pack, load, travel, unload, unpack, handle and stage them they never look as good or as big! Unless your name is John Hamilton. Most members of our Society could grow and show at least one type of begonia species at either their local show or the National. You have to remember that no one is going to mock an exhibit but you will find that people will offer you advice and for me that has been one of the main reasons on how I have improved my growing techniques over the years.

   Everyone can grow one type of begonia or another whether you have a greenhouse, conservatory or even in a pot in the house.

   My Set Up
A 10ft x 6ft Elite Greenhouse built on a 3 course brick wall at the bottom half of my drive way. This is my Propagating House and contains two hotboxes:
   • 1st is 5ft. long and 27½ inches wide and 11 inches deep.
   •  the 2nd is 6ft. long and 23 inches wide and 12 inches deep.
They may sound odd in sizes but the wood was free and was 1½ inch thick tongue and groove hardwood. It has a 3inch polystyrene layer on the bottom then it’s lined with a pond liner and filled with sharp sand with a heating cable and a thermostat 2inchs below the surface of the sand. The third side has metal greenhouse benches and shelves. I also have a Parwin fan heater to keep it frost free at the start of year then later on in the year I just use the fan to keep the air circulating. The bottom 4ft of the greenhouse has a layer of silver insulating foil attached. The idea of this is to reflect the heat back in during the start of the year this also helps to cut down on the heating bills, and later on in the year it reflects the heat away…..and it does work. At the start of the year I attach bubble wrap to keep the heat in, and around the middle of May I replace it with fleece when the daytime temperatures rise and the threat of frost lifts.

My first and main Greenhouse is an Elite Belmont 10ft x 8ft. It has 3 tier staging around three sides and a fourth thin layer of staging that’s 2 inch’s thick and lie’s the full length on one side to move the faster growing plants to the coolest part of the greenhouse. This greenhouse is fleeced on the inside and I paint the roof with Cool glass if the sun really what’s to play. It has 2 x 5 blade louvre vents on all 3 sides with auto roof vents and the double doors are netted as well as all the louver vents, this helps to keep the bug life out. Towards the end and start of the year it’s turned into a workshop to help catch up with all those little DIY jobs that I have put off during the growing season!

My 3rd greenhouse was an idea I had. I wanted to try and create a small “shade house”. With not having a lot of room I got an Elite High eve 8ft x 5½ ft. and built it on top of a two course breeze block wall to give it extra height. It has 3 tier staging alongside one side and across the end. At the other end of the greenhouse the double door is left open and netted. The entire length of the greenhouse opposite the staged length has the glass taken out and is netted and the roof is fleeced. I worked out and managed to get 25 plants in there, with enough room for air to move between them. The second use for this greenhouse is as follows: at the start of the year all the glass gets fitted back into place. The bottom 2ft of the greenhouse has a layer of silver insulating foil fitted and the rest is fitted with bubble wrap. A Sulphur fume fan heater is put in to keep it at 9° Celsius 48.2° Fahrenheit. When my cutting tubers are potted up they go in here as well as first potted adult tubers. This will stop overcrowding in my “propagating greenhouse”.

Current tuber status 9th January 2015
On checking my adult tubers I found quite a few pink eyes already showing. It’s not surprising when you think how mild the weather has been. We have had what feels like day after day of rain with only the odd cold night. If the eyes start piping properly and growing it will start draining the energy from the tuber so to speak. So depending on how fast the pink eyes develop could mean when they have to go back in. It could be earlier rather than later. My cuttings are still in their pots. I will be getting them out in approx. one week’s time to clean and inspect them ready for them to start up again.  

  Well it’s 11th January and I have flowering crocus in the front garden and the snowdrops are not far behind either.

                                                                  Until next time………………. -


Michael Richardson's Diaries 2015