The National Begonia Society


Tony Shepherdson

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

Episode 12 – Early August

Shrewsbury plants
Only a week to go now – did I just say only?  What a week it has been since the last episode! It would have been bad enough if I had just got some of my timing wrong but on top of that I have had quite a few horror stories to put up with. To start with the timing disaster, around bud securing time I showed a photo of a Tequila Sunrise that had three guard petals so I had to secure a bigger bud – well here it was with 2 weeks to go – not quite yet ready and you really have to hold your nerve with this variety and wait until the centre is at it’s best before you show it, but this is how you want it 4 or 5 days before the show not 2 weeks! Needless to say it has gone over now. I think I need to think carefully about bud size when securing. It’s all theoretical really as you can only secure the buds you have on the day but a bud that is 1 ½ inches is 50% bigger than one that is 1 inch so this has a big impact on timing. 

Quite a lot of the blooms have the appearance of being short of petal, but an alternative explanation is that because they are opening so quickly, the petals do not have enough time to develop fully – either way, there are some blooms that are down on size with little left in the centre – and there is still a week to go! 


I am flowering Moonlight for the first time this year – I regularly look at the photos of John Hamilton’s Moonlight from a few years ago; they were fabulous blooms and I wish that I had been there to see them on the day, so I am very happy to have it in my collection now and this one was developing reasonably well until the folded petal appeared – see below left – not to worry, I’ll keep on trying.
Colour run hasn’t been too bad so far this year although Powder Puff continues to frustrate me. Unlike varieties like Sweet Dreams and Colin Hamilton that also suffer from it, especially at the oyster stage but often grow out of it, I find that once it’s present on Powder Puff it is there to stay – see below centre left – Joyce Mihulka doesn’t grow out of it either but so far they are clear. The bud below centre right is Lucy Allely. Again, this photo was taken 2 weeks before Shrewsbury and I know I had a touch of colour run on it last year that it grew out of, but this looks like a tall order looking at it a week later – below right. This variety seems to be a bit like Tahiti inasmuch as the centre is always white as it develops but will usually colour as it approaches maturity. 


There’s not many begonia related jobs that I don’t enjoy but for some reason I am not too fussed about putting my flowering cuttings grown in 2 litre pots into 5 litre ones then weighting them with sand to improve stability during the flowering period. Below left is a Symestar being done, I do this out on the lawn as there is not enough space in the greenhouse to do it without risk of damage to other plants. This one is actually a cutting tuber and was deliberately put into a 2 litre pot as it’s delivered the goods grown this way before. I have 3 cutting tubers and one cutting of Symestar for Shrewsbury – the cutting is on the left of the photo – below right and as you can see has a picottee edge but what doesn’t show on the photo is that is more white than cream. I had a bad experience a few years ago when one came out with a red candy stripe, so any hint of this and I dump the tuber after flowering. This one seems to be gradually growing out of it but it’s heading for the green bin in a few weeks time no matter what! 


I try to be careful throughout the season to not cause any damage to stems and leaf stalks with the watering can but sometimes rot can set in without damage occurring. Possibly the most frustrating place at this late stage is on the neck of the bloom like this Beryl Rhodes. The prognosis is usually not very good when this happens unfortunately. 


One week to go – the next week is going to seem like a month! I cannot decide what is the most frustrating, faults such as double centres on this Mary Heatley – below left, or good flowers that are not going to last until the show, see Mandalay, Joyce Mihulka, Dr Sparky and Powder Puff


       I have ran out of ideas with Daisy Trinder – below 

●    I used to get good blooms on an adult tuber then they started producing double centres so I started flowering on cutting tubers which happily delivered the goods
●   The cutting tubers started giving me double centres so I went onto cuttings which also produced decent blooms
●   You can tell it’s going to be a double centre on Daisy Trinder before you see one as the colour is very pale so I wasn’t surprised to see this – see below and yes, it is a March 2018 cutting – it’s not a case of words fail me – it’s just that the very particular words that I have in mind aren’t really suitable for the NBS website!


Everything had their last feed today, 2nd August – full strength high potash 0-14-17. It’s just a case of ensuring they don’t dry out and doing as much as I can to keep the temperature down. The fans have been on day and night now for more than 2 weeks. I’ve had no hint of mildew so I wonder if this has helped? Colin was here this morning and I mentioned this to him and also said that I wasn’t worried about tempting fate any more so went on to tell him that even with the high temperatures I didn’t have a single edged petal. I went back into the greenhouse straight after he left and found a Golden Hind with an edged petal – won’t do that again in a hurry! 

Dundee plants
Just approaching the halfway stage for my Dundee blooms. They almost all had a half strength higher potash feed at the time of bud securing but by the following week I had reverted to balanced, partly because of the warm weather but also because the plants looked like they needed it as the top leaves appeared a bit underdeveloped for five weeks before the show. Three days later they had the same again with no sign of the hot weather abating. The cuttings I am flowering were no different and on reflection perhaps I should have fed them more frequently as they are now as big as the other plants but are only in 2 litre pots and the top leaves do need to develop. To be honest, some of them looked like they needed a higher nitrogen feed but I felt it was too close to the show to risk it so I stuck with the balanced – only time will tell. With four weeks to go they are all due another feed so I need to decide what to use – see the top leaves of Tigger below left. Again quite a few look too far advanced but I’m hoping for cooler conditions for the last three weeks see below right. 


The seedlings that I grew from Michael Richardson’s cross from 2016 – Powder Puff and Tom Brownlee, are getting interesting now. This will be my first chance to see the kind of bloom the ones I selected to keep are capable of producing when grown from a tuber and I will have to decide if any of them are worth an extended trial. I have even taken a couple of cuttings from the ones that I liked the best last year just in case! It’s fascinating looking at the plants because you can see habit and foliage characteristics from both parents in some cases but in others there are none at all so I presume in these plants that a generation or two has been skipped and they look more like a combination of their Grandparents? I’ll take photos of the good, the bad and the ugly when they reach maturity, but will keep them until a later episode, probably in September.

I am sorry to say that I didn’t get round to putting my cold frame up so I have a lot of my cuttings in the Alton under the staging. Not ideal as they are awkward to get at and could do with more light but I will have to manage for this year. The ones at my Mum’s look well so I have transferred some more there for the next couple of months. This will give those left under the staging a bit more space and light.

UV levels
I have been using the same brand and grade of fleece to line the inside of my greenhouses for five years now – Apollo 30 gsm. I can easily get two seasons out of it before it needs changed – in fact because of the new greenhouse I built last year, I had to leave it for three years on the older 8 x 16 and although it was starting to break up by last October when I took it down, it just about made it. This year however, the fleece that was put up in the new greenhouse at the end of May last year is starting to break up and the only logical explanation for me can be the high UV levels that we have had this year. 

Visitor from New Zealand
Peter Booth, the President of the Auckland Begonia Circle in New Zealand visited on the 2nd August. Peter emigrated from the UK around 35 years ago but still comes back for holidays from time to time. He tried to arrange his schedule around the shows but will probably only be able to make the Ayr show in a couple of week’s time. A lot of the discussion revolved around the difficulties they have down there to bring new stock into the country. Bio-security is critically important and it goes without question that we all share a responsibility to ensure that rules are followed and zero risks are taken – we suffer from the consequences of this in the UK – look no further than vine weevil, but it is very frustrating to see keen growers with their hands tied as a result. 


Just too good to keep to myself 

I was sitting in the car the other day in a queue at a roundabout behind the delivery van of a local baker when I noticed the sign on its back door – ‘No pasties are kept in this van overnight’! 

What’s keeping me awake at night?

Well that’s it from me until after our National Show at Shrewsbury. The very best of luck to everyone who has entered and to everyone else, please start making your plans for next year's National Show! If it’s your first time, I hope that you enjoy every minute of it and become a better grower as a result of the experience. I sincerely hope that you have fared better than me so far – I should just about manage to make it but every morning the trepidation builds as I look in the greenhouse!

If you are planning on staging during the night, watch out, you may be on candid camera – Brian Simmons tells me that he likes lots of photos for the website!              


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