The National Begonia Society


Tony Shepherdson

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

Episode 14 – mid September

I have had a few unwanted visitors to my greenhouse this year – pests not fellow growers that is – they are always welcome, however on one of my regular 20 minute patrols on the Tuesday before Dundee I spotted something moving on the greenhouse floor. A closer look told me it was a woodpigeon! Now even a humble spuggy (a Geordie sparrow) could cause a lot of damage in the greenhouse at this time of year but the thought of what one of those big lumps could do just left me cold. I quietly backed off and went to the other end to see if it would fly straight out of the door but when it didn’t move I realised that it was just a fledgling. How it got there I’ll never know but thanks to a bit of quick thinking from Pauline, I managed to use one of the grandkids fishing nets to catch it. I don’t mind admitting that the cup of tea I had after that bit of excitement should have been something a bit stronger but when I had recovered, I increased my checks to every 15 minutes just to be safe side!!

Well in the end, due to the cooler weather, the run up to Dundee was pretty good. See below in the greenhouse the day before cutting and  some of the blooms that made it onto my 12 board – Symestar, Anniversary, Tom Brownlee, Lucy Alleley, Nichola Coates, and Tequila Sunrise


Dundee Flower and Food Festival
There is something really special to my mind about flower shows that are held in marquees. When I was a lad of 13 – already hooked on gardening, Rosecarpe, the biggest flower show in the North East of England came to Saltwell Park in Gateshead, which just happened to be a stone’s throw away from where we lived. The word went around that the organisers were looking for volunteers to help set the show up so it didn’t take long for me and my pals to get involved – this was in the days before Health and Safety was taken seriously! For my pals it was just a bit of fun, something different to do in the summer break, but for me it was so much more. Watching all of the trade stands being built, plants and blooms being delivered, talking to the likes of Sam McGredy of McGredy’s Roses and many other exhibitors was the adventure of a lifetime, but what I remember the most was the smell, a mixture of the damp grass underfoot and countless roses, carnations and sweet peas (the society that organised the show was called Rosecarpe because it is an abbreviation of those three flowers). I get just as excited today when I arrive at a show and I am so pleased that my two main shows, Shrewsbury and Dundee, are held in marquees.
As I pulled up at the entrance to the Exhibition Marquee in Camperdown Park at around 4.45 on the morning of the show, the first two familiar faces that I saw were John Chiswell and Barry Walker. Now I have a not insignificant 3˝ hour drive from Blaydon, but pushing 9 hours from Radstock in Somerset – now that is real dedication. While I had enjoyed the luxury of a good nights sleep, as we had travelled up the evening before and were staying at the Premier Inn that is just beside the entrance to Camperdown Park, John had first of all driven to pick Barry up, then they continued all through the night to arrive at the show just a couple of minutes before I did!
Inside was all hustle and bustle – John and Mairi Hamilton were busy as usual with both pots and blooms, Phil Champion was in disguise underneath a flat cap and David Nimmo who was staging Robert Nelson’s blooms for him, as he hadn’t been too well since Southport.
Now I always try to concentrate on my own exhibits when staging, at least until it comes to the last half hour or so when everyone is busy fine tuning* but I couldn’t help but notice as soon as I got settled down what looked like a very impressive bloom – below left, that I couldn’t put a name to – possibly a Roy Hartley that was top right on John Hamilton’s stand. It wasn’t until the show opened and I was talking to judges John Irvine and Michael Richardson that I found out that it was a seedling – it was also the very deserving winner of the best bloom in show award.

Congratulations John, a tremendous 12 board making it 12 times now I believe – only one more needed to equal the record set by the late Jimmy Roberts. Apart from the new seedling, highlights for me were his new introduction from last year, Mairi Hamilton, below centre right, a superb Sylvia Johnston – bottom row centre right of his 12 board, Millie, below right – a variety that I have had for a few years now but only flowered in the greenhouse for the first time this year so I will persevere with that one, easily the best Gypsy I have seen this year and also best orange with Tequila Sunrise. A few years ago at one of John’s open days, he had a plant of Sylvia Johnston that took everyone’s eye and it ended up on the Society stand at Ayr the following week and this one was every bit as good.


 Now all of this success at Dundee does come at a price as I discovered last year, so it was nice to be well out of the spotlight this time around while the cameras were pointing at John as he was interviewed for TV! See below

It was second place – below left, for me again and I was very pleased with my board, especially as I also had the best pink with Nichola Coates – top right and best red with Tom Brownlee – bottom right. This was significant because I now have the full set of SBS best bloom awards (apart from best seedling – it’ll be a long time before I’m in the running for that one!) However I still have some way to go with my quest for a full set of NBS best blooms.
About a week before the show, I had earmarked around a dozen blooms that looked like I would get a nice 6 board from. They were slightly down on size from the rest of them but they were all developing some nice form with good centres so I was really happy when they won the 6 board Scottish Championship – below right, meaning I had managed to retain one of the 3 titles from 2017!


*Fine tuning – you can tell when this phase of staging has started because although everyone appears to be looking intently at their own board, if you watch very closely, you will notice the odd subtle sideways glances at the oppositions boards, trying to find weaknesses that can be exploited by a either change of blooms or their position on the board! 

Start of the new season?
In some ways it seems perfectly logical to think of the new begonia season as starting at the beginning of the year – after all, tubers are being taken out of storage and prepared for starting up, greenhouses cleaned and made ready for propagation and of course later on in the same year we have the flower shows, but I try and think of the new season as starting the day after my last show. My reasoning is that everything that I do (or just as importantly, everything that I don’t do) from that day until the shows next year will have an impact on the blooms that I put on the bench.
Now is the time to put into practice anything that I have learnt over the past 12 months. There may be some radical changes or just some fine tuning but essentially everything that I do for the next 12 months is geared towards August 2019 – well actually the beginning of September as well because Dundee Show next year is on the 6th of September.
This is significant and is something to start thinking about now because Dundee will be a full 4 weeks after Shrewsbury, so this needs very careful consideration in terms of my starting up dates for tubers, timings for mixing compost so they are fresh and a host of other things.
So for me, the season is 12 months long and runs from the end of August to the beginning of September the next year. True there are times when I am much less busy than others but there is always something to do. The main growing period may well be around 7 months but I don’t have to try hard to find things to do between now and January.

Vine weevil
About a week before Dundee I completed my final treatment for vine weevil. This is the second year that I have used natural predators and if they are as successful as last year I will be very happy. The instructions that are given is to apply them with a watering can, but I want them all applied directly to the compost and around the tuber so I apply a small amount to the surface of each pot, having first watered them all the day before. The 2, 3 and 4 litre pots get around 70ml each with around half that amount for the cuttings in 1 litre pots. I work backwards from the number of plants I have to calculate how many of the nematodes to buy. I’m not sure if I am giving them too much or too little with this method but it worked last year – there was some evidence of vine weevil grubs starting to burrow into the tubers but no more than a millimetre deep. When I took the tubers out of the compost the small number of examples of this had healed over with no evidence of the grubs left. It is important to ensure that the compost stays damp for 3 to 4 weeks after application. If the compost dries out significantly, the nematodes will shrivel and die before they have a chance to do their dastardly deed!

Bloom tubes
If you use bloom tubes for transporting your cut blooms to the shows, don’t forget to put them away asap somewhere cool and dark until you need them next year. The issue is with the caps – if they are left out for even a short amount of time, UV light will make them brittle and unusable. This makes for a big problem if you don’t discover it until a few of days before the show. I have some that are at least 5 years old but are still in good nick but while clearing the greenhouse last November, I found one on the floor under the staging and the cap had already become brittle.

What’s keeping me awake at night?
It’s still the list – I’m onto version 2 now with still only 28 definites but now there are 5 or 6 possibles. That extra week until Dundee in 2019 is also making me think about what else could produce the goods on a cutting.


.Cultural Diaries