I expect it’s desperately unfashionable to say so, but I do love a nice Begonia. They are easy on the eye, diverse and sometimes dramatic, but normally easy to grow, appreciating a little bit of shade. So I was instantly drawn to Dibleys’ magnificent display of Begonias and Coleus at last week’s Hampton Court Flower Show. The variation in leaf colour, shape and texture was quite staggering. Who needs flowers when leaves look this good? One can’t help but marvel that nature’s ingenuity combined with years of hybridisation has resulted in such an amazing spectrum of varieties, all grown here to perfection.
At home in London, we often grow plain old fibrous-rooted Begonia semperflorens as summer bedding. They appreciate the cooler, damper, shadier conditions we can offer, but will succumb to mildew if they get too dry or if the air circulation around the plants is not good.. Our favourite combinations are white flowers with apple green leaves and red flowers with deep bronze leaves. By the seaside, a lovely specimen of Begonia “Benichoma” spends the summer outside and the winter in our balmy bathroom. The flowers are nothing to speak of, but the pink and silver veined foliage looks good all year round.
This pales into insignificance compared to the Rex type Begonia “Merry Christmas”, pictured below. The puckered leaves are fringed with red and centred on a spidery dark blotch. Nature at its most artistic, although subtle it is not.
For curiosity Begonia “Rocheart” (below) and “Escargot” were complete show stoppers, drawing lots of attention from the crowds. Both have unusual, shell-like centres to their leaves but can collapse slightly under their own weight if not supported.
But for me the “must have” plant was still Begonia luxurians. Totally tropical, but still understated, this is a plant that I’d love to try out. Those multi-fingered leaves and red stems conjure up the feeling of a shady rainforest floor and would bring a touch of the exotic to any planting scheme. Of course these tender Brazilian plants need to be overwintered indoors. As they can grow to 8-10 feet you’d need a decent size greenhouse or conservatory to accomodate them. This species was offered by Madrona Nursery in Kent…..I feel a visit could be on the cards!