March 5, 2013
Bessie Raymond Buxton, a prolific garden writer in the 20th century, said that if more people grew begonias, the world would be a better place. In that spirit, I want to recommend some of my favorites.
Plant lovers who drove down High Street in downtown Des Moines last summer could not help noticing the spectacular planting of Dragon Wing® Red begonias in front of the Principal building in full sun. The parentage of this hybrid is proprietary information; however, a similar begonia named ‘Christmas Candy’ was bred in the early 1980s by Mabel Corwin, a retired California school teacher, who crossed an unidentified shrub-like species from Argentina known as #U014 with a popular bedding begonia, ‘Glamour Rose Picotee.’
The Ball Horticultural Company owns the propagation rights to Dragon Wing® Red, Dragon Wing® Pink and Baby Wing® White. The Wings bloom nonstop because they are sterile, which also means hand pollination is required to produce the seeds, tiny as dust, jaw-dropping pricey and worth every dollar. I recommend purchasing transplants at planting-out time in the spring.
‘Gryphon’ is another fairly new hybrid begonia that is grown for its large palmate leaves — to eight inches across — that are olive green splashed with silver. I purchased six transplants at last year’s Master Gardener sale and planted three each in two 14-inch pots filled with packaged all-purpose potting soil. They grew with amazing speed in light dappled shade, to the size of a bushel by midsummer. Both plants have done well this winter in the east-facing bay window of my living room. When frost-free weather returns my plan is to transplant them to very tall pots with an edging of dichondra ‘Silver Falls.’
A third begonia I’d like more gardeners to know about is a fibrous-rooted hybrid called ‘Tea Rose.’ Its generous clusters of pink flowers are fragrant and the plant is everblooming. I like to grow it in a hanging basket or window box where it is easy to connect my nose with the flowers. My source for the plants is logees.com. ‘Tea Rose’ is only one of many begonias that have fragrant flowers; you’ll find others in Logee’s catalog or at kartuz.com.