The National Begonia Society


Tony Shepherdson

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

Episode 11 – mid July

I am always conscious of how fortunate we can sometimes be here in our little corner of the British Isles compared to the rest of the country regarding summer temperatures, especially in my own garden. For the majority of June, while most of the country baked in temperatures in the high twenties and above, we were sometimes 5 degrees below. Now please don’t be misled when you see the forecast map with 18°C hovering above Newcastle day after day; they are the coastal temperatures whereas 10 miles inland the influence of the North Sea lessens but we have certainly been ‘less hot’ that the rest of the country. These are once in a decade temperatures that many of us are experiencing, although I know that Phil Champion would have taken issue with that statement a couple of years ago!
With regard to my own patch, I may have said it before but I am lucky with the location of my greenhouses. I don’t take any credit for this – the house wasn’t bought with begonias in mind and there was nowhere else in the garden to put them so it really was ‘Hobson’s Choice’ regarding their site, but being surrounded by walls on three sides usually ensures that I don’t have sunlight heating them up from the sides and the low level air outside of them is kept quite cool because of the walls so this cooler air is constantly being drawn into the greenhouses. 

Shrewsbury plants
So far, my biggest issue is timing. At bud securing time, I found myself on too many occasions with one bud too advanced and the next one too small. The only logical thing to do, especially with the warm weather we are experiencing was to take the smaller bud as the bigger ones will in all likelihood be too early, so only time will tell. I kept feeding Vitax balanced until two weeks after securing because of the temperature and the look of the leaves and then went onto a higher potash version, as I don’t want to risk soft petals. Here is how they looked on July 16th see below left and again on the 22nd below right. Looking at them now I am wishing that I had taken more smaller buds because far too many of them are almost a week further on than I would like and with no prospect of cooler weather I think quite a few will have gone over by Shrewsbury time. 


Despite my best efforts in positioning the sticks, some varieties are still being awkward and the buds are facing the wrong way, none more so than Sweet Dreams – as usual. This is frustrating for three reasons

●    The stick of the plant in front can become perilously close to the bloom – see below left
●    The plants look bare when they are turned through 180 degrees – only cosmetic so not that much of a concern
●    The leaves do not get enough light as they are tucked beneath the foliage of the plants on the staging behind – more concerning– see below centre. I often put suspect varieties on the back staging when setting the plants out but overlooked them this year; I must have a swot up of my Feng Shui for Begonia Growers manual!


Dundee plants
These all had a half strength balanced feed every week for the three weeks before securing; two in the case of the 7 week varieties – the majority are only in 3 litre pots and many had been in them for 6 weeks when I started feeding.
They are now growing well with virtually all of the buds secured and generally speaking there were more of them of the right size on the day compared to the Shrewsbury plants. Also, there were hardly any ‘iffy’ looking buds as well – so far! Mind you, one of the things that Colin and I always said in our chrysanthemum growing days was that at this stage, they all look like winners! Here they are on July 16th – see below left. The first Dundee buds to be secured included Tequila Sunrise, middle tier and Tom Brownlee, bottom tier – see below centre. The cuttings I will be flowering have made good progress – see below right, and will soon have to be placed into 5 litre pots weighted with sand to improve stability.


Natural predators
I am all for the use of natural predators, providing that they are effective. The two most commonly used by begonia growers are ‘Amblyseius Cucumeris’ for mite and ‘
Steinernema Kraussei’ for vine weevil, but over the last couple of years I have found the odd earwig hiding in my buds, so because there are no real effective chemical controls available for them these days, I am now using a biological alternative.
My control of choice is ‘
Hortulani Caliga’ – for instruction on how to use it, see left to right below 


Some little (and not so little) things sent to try me
Early one late June morning, I must have had a puzzled look on my face similar to the person who first discovered crop circles. The strange marks on the greenhouse roof had me staring at them for ages – see below left. On closer inspection on the outside they looked even stranger until I eventually discovered the culprit – it was ants. They had left a trail in the glass shading – I use Nixol, which goes almost clear when wet, so the early morning moisture courtesy of the North Sea and the River Tyne must have softened it enough for the ants to leave a visible trail in it – the pattern shows the intricate paths they take and it looks like the next ones follows it exactly – see below left and centre. And I bet you thought the one about the leaf miner was boring!!!
A couple of mornings later while I was making my second (or it might have been my third) cup of tea Pauline shouted for me to quickly look in the garden. I was just in time to see a couple of tree rats – wrongly called grey squirrels by some folk – scarper out of one of the greenhouses and into the trees. After a good look round the two big greenhouses I couldn’t find any damage but when I went into my Alton I found their handiwork – see below right 


Managing buds for flowering
When the buds to be flowered reach the time for securing, I find the more time I can spend with the plants the better. Little things like old bud stalks that nestle in leaf axils – see below, and then rot need to be removed and checking for these thoroughly is not a five-minute job. 


I like to help guide the buds into position and for this I use polypropylene fleece either side of the bud. This will not turn the bud around but it does help them come out of the foliage without getting twisted and it also help keep the guard petal from becoming deformed. It is not used to protect the buds from damage, just to keep them straight – see below 


I do not put the collars on until around 3 weeks before the show. I wait until the neck has elongated sufficiently to allow plenty of space between the top leaves and the bloom so I can put the collar on without risk of damaging petals. The only time I put them on earlier is if the guard petals have started to curl backwards towards the stem. 

One other essential job that is done was to attach the packets of Amblyseius Cucumeris to combat any potential mite invasion – see below 


My cuttings, in their various locations are progressing well and have now been fed a couple of times with a balanced feed. They need regular attention to pinch out growth from wherever it appears to encourage the formation of a decent sized cutting tuber for next year –
see Lucy Allely before and after pinching out - below 


Entry forms
I always have to remind myself to check the show schedules well in advance for the closing date for entries; if you are thinking about one of the big shows this will be strict and rightly so. Bench space has to be allocated well in advance, boards have to be made available and transport arranged for equipment, paperwork prepared and all of this not by full time paid officials but by volunteers who spend hours and hours of their own time to provide us with such superb facilities for our exhibitions. The 20th of July was the closing date for our 2018 National Show at Shrewsbury this year – here’s hoping for full benches!

What’s keeping me awake at night?
Here’s a big admission – I suffer really badly from pre-show nerves – I always have done, but only for the first show of the year mind you, then I’m ok – once I’m in the car and on my way that is, but really it’s no joke and for the last three years I have sort of found a cure by keeping myself occupied during the morning by making something begonia related before I start to cut and pack!
In 2015 it was another box to hold 6 cut blooms, 2016 I made yet another one and last year I made one to hold 3 blooms, together with a platform to level off the 2 boxes behind the front seats due to the slope on the floor rather than just using bricks as I had in the past. This year, as I don’t need any more boxes, I am planning on making something to lock all of the boxes together to stop them from moving about. I’ve got a few ideas in my head but need to finalise the design soon! I’m feeling a bit daft now that I’ve just read this back to myself but there you go – my secret is out! Any suggestions for a bit of begonia related handiwork before the National Show next year will be gratefully received! 

Next episode – last few days before Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury Flower Show 10th. & 11th. August   ~   Dundee Food & Flower Festival 31st. August - 2nd. September


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