The National Begonia Society


Tony Shepherdson

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

Introduction – December 2017

Well I had been warned! Michael Richardson, on this very website told us the story of how Robert Bryce signed him up to do his cultural diary a couple of years ago – fancy catching the poor man off guard when he was driving, concentrating so hard as he always does on staying within the speed limit…….

Fast forward to 1st September 2017 and it was my turn! 
Standing in the Exhibition Marquee at Dundee, to say that I was in a daze is a huge understatement. Reeling from the double shock of seeing the British Championship banner above my twelve board (left), with the best bloom rosette in front of it (right) followed by a few minutes later the terror of being ‘door-stepped’ (the lady from BBC Scotland’s words not mine!) into being interviewed by Jim McColl for the Beechgrove Garden meant that I really couldn’t be held responsible for my own actions, but that is the precise moment that our Secretary pounced and had me signed up to do the 2018 cultural diary before I knew it – future victims; don’t say that you haven’t been warned!

Brian Simmons has asked me to do a bit of an introduction so here goes. Although I am relatively new to begonias, I have been addicted to growing, specifically for exhibition, from a very early age. I was helping out on my Dads friend’s allotment when I was 11 and by the time I was 16 I had my own. Aged 18, I was showing pot leeks, other show vegetables and a range of flowers in the social clubs around Gateshead, however I soon became completely hooked on chrysanthemums. Sound advice from Arthur (Arty) Wilson, a childhood hero of mine and just about the best leek and veg exhibitor around, who’s allotment was opposite mine led me to join the Northumberland and Durham Chrysanthemum and Dahlia Society, where another early mentor was none other than Fred Lee, who I am sure many of you will know. At this time, Fred was a very well known chrysanthemum grower.

Married life meant my own garden at home so no need for the allotment, but due to space and time constraints, it had to be chrysanthemums only. Local and then National successes eventually followed with both early mediums and late medium and large exhibition. I can recall bumping into to Fred Lee one year in the marquee at Harrogate Autumn Show; it must have been some time around the early eighties. By then, Fred had more or less moved over to growing begonias. I still remember his words – you have got to give the begonias a go; you’ll love them! Well, it took me more than 25 years but I eventually took Fred’s advice! I had stopped growing chrysanthemums around 2002 – a combination of pressure of work and planning for a downsizing house move in 2004 as our three daughters were starting to leave the nest, so when the house renovation was eventually completed and with retirement almost on the horizon, I was ready for a challenge. My best pal Colin Elsworth, thanks to some stock and cultural advice from Fred had been migrating from large exhibition chrysanthemums to begonias for a couple of years, and offers of stock from Colin and Fred meant that my arm didn’t take much twisting, as I often found myself looking past the chrysanthemum standing ground to the begonias in the greenhouse on my regular visits to Colin's garden. 

We live in Blaydon, just south of the River Tyne and near to Gateshead – its big claim to fame is the Geordie anthem ‘The Blaydon Races’. Although it has a reputation for being ‘The Freezing North East’, most of the area around Tyneside, to my mind at least, doesn’t suffer from the extremes of any type of weather. Perhaps that’s because I’ve lived here all my life, but I really don’t think it’s a bad area in general for growing. Additionally, I think that the micro climate of my own garden is more than conducive to begonia growing as we are fairly sheltered, meaning the greenhouses don’t have extreme exposure to the sun although I do lack a bit of light early in the season – more about my location later in the year.

I’ll also go into a bit more detail about my set up later on, but basically I have two 16 x 8 Elite aluminium greenhouses, a 10 x 8 cedar wood Alton and a 10 x 4 Access aluminium cold frame. I started with the Alton 10 years ago, at the time just for general garden use, I added the first 16 x 8 in 2014 when begonias were becoming an obsession and the second one arrived in 2017, just in time for my first full growing season after my retirement. The cold frame is a very old friend that I have had since 1980.  

Well that’s all for now, best wishes for the New Year and by the next episode, I will be getting down to business for the 2018 season.       

Cultural Diaries.