The National Begonia Society


Tony Shepherdson

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

Episode 9 – late May
I was up with the larks as usual last Friday and when I stopped for my mid morning coffee break, I picked up my phone to look at the news and noticed that it was the 1st June. Out of curiosity, I looked at the calendar to check how long to go for the shows and I was shocked to realise that I will be securing my first buds for the National Show at Shrewsbury in only 3 weeks time! Now I have a habit of removing buds as soon as I see them but from now on I will need to be careful that I don’t remove any buds that will be the correct size on the day – hopefully this will be the first year that I don’t make this basic mistake!


Final Potting
One of the many things that I love about growing begonias is that final potting time is far less strenuous than late chrysanthemum final potting. Ten inch clay pots that have been made even heavier by soaking them in water for 24 hours prior to use, which are then filled with crocks and heavy loam based compost which is also significantly firmed, makes for strenuous work and leaves you at high risk of coming down with a medical condition that Colin Elsworth and I used to call ‘Final potting back’.
I still use a loam based compost but smaller pots that are made of plastic make for a much lighter task.
For both my Shrewsbury plants and those for Dundee, the plants in 1 litre pots – mostly cutting tubers were ready for their 3 litre finals first and I started in the middle of May – the 14th to be exact. The adult tubers went from their 2 litre first pots into 4 litre finals and followed soon afterwards – see Tequila Sunrise below.



I ensure that every plant to be potted up is watered 24 hours before which is time for the compost to drain nicely before removal. This also means that I can withhold water from the new pot for around 5 to 7 days which means the roots will have moved into the new compost by the time it gets the first watering.
Final potting was completed by the 29th of May, except for the cuttings that are to be flowered – but these were all into their 2 litre finals by the 4th of June. The Shrewsbury plants – see below left, clearly look more advanced compared to the Dundee ones – see below right, but so they should at this stage and anyway, begonias can do a lot of growing at this time of year – at least that’s what I’m counting on! There are around 15 plants too many in both of my main greenhouses right now but they will have to stay that way until I manage to empty the propagating house.




Flowering cuttings

The cuttings that I flowered last year were grown in M2 for their first pots but I modified it to 5 parts M2 and 1 part Vermiculite – this obviously has the effect of diluting the fertilizer content, so for this year I changed it to 2 parts M2 and 1 part of my standard loam compost, my idea being that from a physical structure point of view, the grit in the loam compost would be a suitable replacement for the Vermiculite without reducing the amount of fertilizer in the pot, anyhow, that’s the theory that I came up with one night so I stuck with it!
The cuttings I’m flowering this year are doing quite well; they were put into 1 litre pots on the 8th May which was a bit late for my liking but just over 3 weeks later quite a few were ready for their finals – see Symestar below left and right. I have stuck with a half and half mix of M2 and my loam compost for the finals as they grew well in it last year. They went into 2 litre finals but these pots will need to go into a 5 litre weighted with sand for stability but I’ll do this nearer the bud as I don’t want the roots to grow too far into the sand. Those cuttings that didn’t make the grade for flowering had their growing points pinched out at 4 leaves for them to be used for next years cutting tubers




Cuttings update
As usual, lack of space is my problem so my main batch of cuttings went into 3˝ inch pots for a while until I decide where they will spend the summer. They will need to go into 1 litre finals by the end of the first week in June and whereas last year I kept most of them in the propagating house, with around 200 plants in finals for flowering I will need to sort out some alternative lodgings for them this year. The first option is my large cold frame, which I am about to give a permanent home to on my last bit of free garden space and once it’s full, the rest will probably go under my Mam’s car port for the summer. Any left over will have to brave the elements down the side of the house. All of the cuttings for stock are potted in Humax original – the one with added silver sand.
I’ve had the odd cutting that has come out of the propagator without a single root but still with the beginnings of a tuber forming and in some instances the tuber is even producing new shoots. Most of these have been leaf cuttings so I guess the early shoots are part of the process of the cutting dividing into multiple tubers that you sometimes see with leaf cuttings – see Moonlight, below left and right.




SBS talk, Sunday 13th May
No chance of going to the wrong place this time as I get to as many of the SBS meetings as I can, although there were probably a few times on the journey up when I wouldn’t have minded if I had got lost! I know I can be a bit quiet at times but even by my standards I was very reserved once we arrived at the hall and I just got even more nervous as I looked around at the members starting to arrive – and then Hecklers Corner started to fill up! This was it; no going back, and even though when I stood up I felt a bit ‘glaiky’ as we would say on Tyneside (‘Awkward or slow in wit’ – it sounds better in a broad Geordie accent) once I eventually got started everything seemed to come back to me and overall I think I got through it ok.
As I’ve said before, the name Hecklers Corner is just a big leg pull about a friendly bunch of growers who keep the banter going with the speaker of the day and for the very first time I can actually reveal them at work because at the end of the talk I was ready with my phone and managed to grab a photo of them before they had a chance to escape! They need no introduction but for the record they are, left to right, Robert Bryce, John Hamilton, Ian Donaldson, Michael Richardson and Phil Champion.



EOSBS talk, Sunday 20th May
Another weekend, another trip to Scotland, this time I had my wife Pauline with me for company and she was also going to sit in on the talk – probably to find out exactly what goes on in those big glass things in the corner of our garden! We arrived at Crossford Village Hall in good time and not long after Jim Evans arrived and I gave him a hand to transfer the contents of his car – computer and projector, shop items and loads of plants for the plant sale. Before long the members started to arrive and I was very pleased to catch up with John Irvine. John was really helpful to Colin and I in our early days of begonia growing with both stock and advice in equal measure. He is a big miss from the show bench but is still as fanatical as ever about growing and now that he has made the move into judging, we exhibitors will be in very good hands come show time. It was also great to meet the EOSBS President, Keith Brand. Keith doesn’t grow begonias, he is actually a leading gladioli grower.
He is a Crop Production Scientist and works as an Agronomist with a leading agronomy advice and supply company – what a fantastic resource of knowledge for the EOSBS members; I must make sure that I have a list of questions ready for the next time we meet!
On the subject of questions, Pauline didn’t have any about the talk on the journey home, so I can only assume that I must have covered everything………?


Some unwelcomed visitors
A section of my talk is on pests – I had considered including Monty Don but decided against it because I don’t know how I would cure him of his dislike of tuberous double begonias – sorry, I digress – and one part concerns a small problem I have with leaf miner. This is really strange but for the previous three years I have had a small outbreak of leaf miner in exactly the same place of the same greenhouse, since it was built in fact and this year it’s happened again – I’m fairly certain that they haven’t overwintered as I’ve used sulphur candles during the winter so it’s a strange one. This time it’s on one of my multiflora, Honeymoon – see below, and when I cut it open there were 4 of the little monsters inside. I also found one on a Sweet Dreams a couple of feet away.



Now this reminded me of something from years ago that happened at work when we built a warehouse extension onto the factory. The following year, sometime around spring, we had an outbreak of smallish black flies in a very isolated part of the warehouse. With the help of a couple of those electric zapper things we got rid of them but the following year they returned to exactly the same place, so we got an expert in who told us that it was most likely the precise location of an ancient – and he emphasised the word ancient, breeding ground and that eventually they would get the message and not come back, which is what happened. I’m just wondering if this is a similar thing.
Probably not the most exciting thing I’ll ever put in this diary but someone may find it interesting!!


Gardening Scotland at Ingleston
Friday the first of June was the first day of Gardening Scotland and I soon heard from Bob Robertson that the SBS had gained a silver medal and were a split decision away from a silver gilt. Thanks to Bob and George Thompson who staged my plants along with the rest of the exhibit – I should have a photo for the next episode.


What’s keeping me awake at night?
Just the dawn chorus right now, so most mornings you will find me out in the garden long before 06.00 with my first cup of tea!

Next episode – summer jobs before bud securing.


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