Perfect Partners: Tradescantia ‘Purple Sabre’ & Begonia ‘Martin Johnson’

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You would not believe the ideas I have for this blog. They are stored up in my head and occasionally committed to paper. They come to me in the shower, on the train, in the garden and as I go to sleep at night. My ideas range in magnitude from humble to magnificent. If realised, The Frustrated Gardener would be the finest gardening blog in all the land, maybe even the greatest in the universe. I would be rich and famous, Monty Don would invite me to Longmeadow for the weekend and Alan Titchmarsh would do ‘carry to car’ for me at plant fairs. He’d even drive me there and back. I would have a garden the size of Wisley and all the gardeners I needed to keep it looking immaculate. I would garden masterfully by day and write brilliantly by night, never tiring of either.  Unfortunately, the gulf that lies between my ambition and my capacity to deliver it is a wide one, so my fellow bloggers can sleep easy tonight, and probably for the foreseeable future. Yet I believe it’s better to have unfulfilled ambition than no ambition at all. I shall just keep on tapping away, generating ideas and perhaps one day I shall get ‘there’, wherever that might be.

During the months ahead I hope to experiment with a couple of new post series; one called ‘On the Bookshelf’, which will explore a single shelf in my library at a time, highlighting some of my favourite reads and references, and another called ‘Perfect Partners’, celebrating successful relationships between two or more plants. I begin that series today with Tradescantia ‘Purple Sabre’ and Begonia ‘Martin Johnson’, two alluring plants that came together quite by chance on a narrow shelf in my garden room.

I first met Tradescantia ‘Purple Sabre’ on holiday in Montenegro where I admired it tumbling out of a mellow stone trough into pot of bright red, ivy-leaf geraniums. The effect was striking. The foliage of this fine tradescantia is iridescent in bright sunshine, the leaf surface shimmering like a slick of dusky eyeshadow. Occasionally a stem presents a small, pinkish-purple flower, but this is gilding the lily. I thought no more about our meeting until a rare visit to Burncoose Nurseries in Cornwall reunited us. I purchased a single plant. One is all you need, since the stems of ‘Purple Sabre’ are both liable to snap off and to root quickly when inserted into a pot of free-draining compost. The plant you see in this photograph is just a year old, and has given rise to numerous others already.

Begonia ‘Martin Johnson’ came to me as a tiny plug plant from Dibleys Nurseries. I was ordering other things and decided to top up my order with a couple of large-leaved, Rex-type begonias. ‘Martin Johnson’ sat petulantly in its pot for a year, producing just a single, lousy leaf. I wrote the begonia off as one of my more disappointing purchases. Then, all of a sudden, one huge, maple-shaped leaf appeared, followed by another, and then another. That feeble little plug has now made a nice plant, although it should become much larger in the fullness of time.

What I like about the combination of these two plants is that they are entirely different from one another, and yet complementary. The tradescantia is sleek, elegant and expensive-looking, like a Valentino gown, whilst the begonia is all jazz hands, blaring Christian Lacroix lavishness. Even the way the begonia positions its leaves shouts ‘look at me – I’m fab-u-lous dahling!’. The two plants are unified in this composition by a generous flourish of Streptocarpus saxorum, a plant which flowers for almost twelve months of the year but occasionally takes a short break. Like many perfect partners, ‘Purple Sabre’ and ‘Martin Johnson’ benefit from a little space, rather than needing to live cheek-by-jowl. As far as care is concerned both enjoy similar conditions: bright shade and perhaps a little sun to bring out their dusky, metallic colours, moist but well-drained compost and protection from frost. Each will grow quite happily outside during the summer months. And again, like many a good pairing they are better together than separate, so much so that they’re consigned to that narrow shelf in my garden room for eternity …. or until I fulfil all my ambitions, whichever takes longer. TFG.

Categories: Begonias, blogging, Container gardening, Foliage, House Plants, Perfect Partners, Photography, Plant Portraits, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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25 comments On "Perfect Partners: Tradescantia ‘Purple Sabre’ & Begonia ‘Martin Johnson’"

  1. Great idea for a new series. I’m always on the lookout for books that recommend planting partners, like Christopher Lloyd’s fabulous book on colour. I love your first featured partnership.

  2. Love the new series ideas and am a big fan of tradescantia but not a great fan of begonias! However I can see how you think they work well together

  3. Looking quite gorgeous! very stunning combo… i need some hints on the indoor plants as my are looking very uninspiring….probably need a lot more TLC than I am giving them…

  4. Saw tradescantia “Purple Sabre” growing many, many years ago as ground cover in Barbados round the foot of trees. We use shredded bark to make nice circles round the bottom of trees, the Barbadian had tradescantia. Look forward to your new series. Mrs. P.

  5. Well Dan, I think your blog is the best in the universe already, however your ideas for the future are absolutely great. With the greater plans please wait until you retire as you might not have enough time to blog and we your faithful followers would loose your fabulous posts 😭

  6. Dan,

    As I garden -if not live, for the ‘other’ garden all the time I do understand your ambition. I always ask my self if gardening has become an obsession for me or where & when the line is drawn between it and pleasure. No satisfying answer yet.

    Yet, while I was writing the history of my garden(ing) which has been published by the title of “Binbir Bahce Masallari” (Thousand and One Garden Tales) I have realised that I became a paparazzi reporter of my own garden: While gardening or walking the dogs I would look for ideas and photos to put in the book; when I had a writers block I would grab the camera go take another tour of the seven thousand sq metres looking for a relevant shot or a sentence. It sure has become an obsession where I could not see the garden nor its purpose anymore: pleasure & joy turned into a duty.

    I very much enjoy reading your each blog however irrelevant they may be most of the time due to geography & climate differences; as you might remember I live at the tip of the Aegean merging into the Mediterranean. With all my empathies and admiration I feel obliged to tell you to be careful, while looking for new ideas to write you may miss the day, the joy of simply staring at your garden, admiring your creation with a glass of your favourite gin & tonic or wine in your hand, for yourself only. I know we gardeners like to share, I am aware of the fact that admiration of others is the reward of a hard work along with healthy plants, but the trap is there. Please take no offence, I had to say it as an ageing gardener.

    Wish you could read Turkish so that I could send you a signed copy of my book in which
    I have quoted a paragraph (pages 197, 198) from your blog of 2016/02/25 where you have written on what I have been trying to say to you above; on sitting idle, doing nothing.

    Nevertheless I can’t wait to read the additions to your blog; I think they would be great additions. Good luck.

    Best wishes,

    1. Thank you Ceylan. I wish I could read your book too. What an achievement, congratulations. And thank you for including a paragraph of mine. I agree totally with your sentiments and have indeed been a slave to my garden this year. I am enjoying it significantly more now that my foot is coming off the the pedal, and since it’s almost dark by the time I get home from work, there’s only so much I can do each day. I shall endeavour to spend more time in the moment, as I am always telling myself I should. Dan

  7. Well hell. if I was Monty Don I would definitely invite you to Longmeadow for a weekend- providing I was invited to the Watch House in return.

  8. Hi Dan,
    I think you’re well on the way to having the best gardening blog in the land already! Looking forward to seeing your new series taking shape. Particularly liked your description of the two plants; made me smile! How do you get streps to grow? Mine always die after a while.

    1. Neglect Ylva! I let them get quite dry before watering. S. saxorum is extremely easy compared to the hybrids and you really can’t go far wrong with it. I have a plant of S. ‘Albatross’ that’s 10 years old but needs replacing as it’s running out of steam. That’s a very easy hybrid to grow and the flowers are pure white.

  9. I look forward to your new blogs but WHERE do you find the time? I love the combination of the Tradescantia ‘Purple Sabre’ and Begonia ‘Martin Johnson’, just gorgeous.

  10. I love your ideas; we all need to dream but also be happy with what we’ve already achieved. My brother moved to a garden with a path flanked by trads and spider plants. The combination was stunning. He had the lot removed because he thought it was messy! I was horrified but it’s not my garden. It’s in Melbourne, Australia!
    I’m looking forward to reading more about planting partners.

  11. Begonias are one of my favorite plants. With the seemingly endless variations in their leaves you can find one that will go with most plants. This is a very good combo. I so enjoy your posts. Do carry on.

  12. I always look forward to your posts Dan and already think you have one of the best garden blogs on the planet. Your talent for design is apparent in the way you pair your planting and this is no exception. I think Monty is missing a trick not inviting you to Longmeadow. 🙂

  13. A delicious plant combination – Streptocarpus are my favourite houseplant (I have 12 and counting…). Thanks also for making me laugh out loud at my desk – the image of Alan Titchmarch as a ‘plant porter’ will probably stay with me for a while! 🙂

    1. I can’t see it happening in real life, so hold onto that image Charlotte.

      You must share your streptocarpus secrets with us all as so many people seem to struggle with them. I manage OK if I concentrate, but one overwatering and they’re done for!

      1. You never know what the future holds – the strangest things can happen 😁

        It’s taken me around 3 years (and a lot of plant losses along the way!) but I think I’ve finally cracked streptocarpus growing and now have a healthy collection that bloom well. So perhaps a good time to share what I’ve learnt – thanks for the prompt 🙂

  14. I’ll be looking forward to your first ‘On the Bookshelf’ post. For the time being, I must say that you did an excellent job with your Tradescantia-Begonia combo. They look stunning!

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