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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Long Distance, Give Me 'Bama Begonia

Every gardener I know grows some plant from somebody else. Some of us wait to be offered. Some of us beg; I'm one of those: I see it, I want it, I ask for it. Either way, we're getting passalong plants. I've certainly begged and received a good number of seeds, cuttings and plants. And in turn, I've passed along those passalongs to other gardeners.

Usually, such exchanges are made in person, hand to hand. But one of my hugely successful and prolific passalong plants came by mail, recalling a method favored back in the day – when George Washington would receive plants and seeds from gardeners in America and other countries; a talented gardener, he loved to experiment with unfamiliar species at his Mount Vernon, Virginia, estate.

Well, at my humble country garden in Connecticut, I wanted to see how hardy begonia (Begonia grandis) would do. So, I asked my friend Barbara W. East of Gadsden, Alabama, if she could share some of her considerable stash. Unpacking plants is always fun, but this unpacking was a triumph, as I had failed to find this plant in nurseries here (it's more available now). Triumph blended with surprise as I discovered Barbara had sent some of the white-blooming variety as well as the pink.

Apparently not widely grown in New England, the cold-hardy begonia comes as a surprise to many of my garden visitors. And because this plant is a prolific spreader, as well as a determined migrant, it's all over my space. I've sent plants and cuttings home with gardeners galore. And they continue to pass it on.

Part of this begonia's appeal is its late-summer and fall bloom time. It is the flip side of the Lenten rose's late-winter and spring bloom time. And its beauty goes beyond blooms; the heavily-veined leaves are striking too, particularly when lit by the sun. Moreover, the seed pods that follow blossoms are art themselves, little lanterns that persist for weeks, eventually fading to the color of straw.

And now, with great pleasure, I give you – in living color – Barbara's begonia.


























































26 comments:

  1. man lee you ARE a great writer....I cannot grow begonias ..I think it's because they get to much water in the summer...I tried Ive put them in sand...sigh...they look great for you!!

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    1. Well, Sharon, your kind words sure make me *feel* great. 'Preciate you.

      The way begonias have treated you makes me feel fortunate that they do well here. Geographical luck, I guess.

      In case it helps to know my growing conditions: Some of their soil is rich, some is poor, and the water is only what they get from rain. They grow everywhere, from shade to part sun. No fertilizer. Try again; this plant is worth having.

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  2. Your begonias look so healthy. I can't wait to see mine puff up and spread out. What a treat it will be. I have never seen this plant sold in my area. I was under the impression that it wouldn't grow here. I will certainly see. The ones that have taken here look healthy. I will be on the look out for those little lanterns. I have never seen the seed pods. We had our first light frost this week. It seems early to me. I wonder what winter will bring.

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    1. You're in for a treat with those lanterns, Lisa. It'll be interesting to learn whether it's hardy for you. I'm betting it will be. Let me know.

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  3. I like the way the leaves on the pink one look red from below. I don't have the pink one. Sigh~~ ;)

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    1. You need that pink one, Lisa. Is hardy begonia still not sold in your area? Seems some plant seller would know that, with climate change, it's easier to be hardy now.

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    2. No hardy begonia is offered here. I have been talking to a nurseryman that just bought a business here in town. I am hoping he will introduce some new plants. It seems the people here offer only what has been grown around here forever. They are not a bit adventurous.

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    3. He'll get that plant for you if he wants to be successful. No big deal to order plants from his supplier. Nurseries do that all the time. Ordering it online is an option, but not as good as his ordering it. Keep me posted; somehow, you'll have that pink begonia for next year.

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  4. A very lovely piece of writing, Lee. Thank you. What a glowing tribute to beautiful Begonia grandis. I've never seen it so grand as it is pictured, growing in your wonderful garden, with all the coolness and moisture it needs. It is spectacular.

    The photos are gorgeous. I do love any photo with back light to enhance the subject. The last one with the vienation so displayed in the leaves is superb.

    Enjoy to the fullest.

    It makes me happy that so many of your Connecticut gardeners have shared in growing of the Alabama begonia. May it continue to give much joy. Passalong plants are the best; I sure do love mine.

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    1. Ahhh, Barbara, I appreciate you for giving me a gift that makes writing so satisfying. And a one that the camera loves so much.

      There's a lot of Alabama in Connecticut, and you started it. On behalf of this 'Bama-born gardener and my Nutmegger pals, thanks a million.

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  5. I am proud to have this begonia grandis in my garden now --- your gift to me is treasured!

    I knew nothing about this beauty -- you're right, it is not well known in Connecticut and rarely found here. I split the clumps you gave me and put them in along the patio wall, having discovered that the gray brickwork is a nice foil to the delicate flowers and rich red undersides of the leaves. They get half day shade and half day sun, but you've said they won't be fussy about that.

    Can't wait to see them (and see them spread, perhaps) next season. Thanks for including me in the line of passalongs!

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    1. Laurrie, I'm picturing that spot, and it looks perfect to me. And I've never seen this plant even *threaten* to get fussy. Enjoy the ever-expanding show. My pleasure to have you among the hardy begonia lovers.

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  6. There is a lovely shot of the white begonia grandis in another Connecticut garden on Karla's blog at Gardendaze today.
    http://gardendaze.wordpress.com/2012/09/26/wordless-wednesday-100/

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    1. Indeed, Karla's 'Alba' is putting on a show. Thanks for the alert.

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  7. What a cheery late season flower to brighten up the fall garden! The surprise seedlings are a bonus. I just have the pink variety now but will be on the lookout for a white version.

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    1. For sure, those seedlings surprise all over the garden; they love to roam. If you can't find the 'Alba', I know where plenty grow for the taking.

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  8. Lee,
    I love your story about how these begonias came to be in your garden. And your photos will surely encourage more folks to grow them. I think perhaps that's what I love best about my white one 'Alba.' Even when it's not in bloom, the leaves, stems and whole plant are just gorgeous. And yes, I do have lots and lots to pass along!

    Karla

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    1. 'Preciate hearing from you, Karla. I don't know about you, but when I got this begonia, I never would have guessed that it could please in so many ways – leaves, blooms, seedpods, toughness. It's truly the plant that just keeps on giving. Enjoy spreading the beauty!

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  9. Lee, you may remember from interviewing me for rose articles, that I told you about my Mother-in-Law __Anna Murray Davis moving in with my husband and I two years after we were married. She was from Commerce, Ga. and we lived in a new first home in Sandy Springs, Ga.

    She was a very accomplished woman in every way. Probably her long suit was in gardening and flower arranging. I worked very hard to try to measure up to her. Actually she turned out to be a blessing and a wonderful part of my life.

    She brought several plants to my new garden from her garden . One of the most outstanding and was what she called a perennial begonia. I now have it in my current garden and it is so beautiful. I have shared it many times in my garden club plant swaps and it is all over Atlanta. As you said , it can be very invasive but when controlled, it can be a lovely border of pink.

    Your writing brings back such good memories to me.

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    1. Anna, I do remember your describing her many talents and how she influenced you. Having enjoyed visiting your award-winning garden with that enviable rose collection, I can say with assurance that you've done her proud.

      Thank you for sharing these fond recollections. How beautifully they demonstrate the power of gardening.

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  10. Hello Lee, thanks for your comment on my blog. Gardening is such a wonderful metaphor for life and I love this post about passalong plants. No one moves through life without the help of others, same thing is true for our gardens :)

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    1. My pleasure, Rosemary. I enjoyed my visit immensely. Thanks for stopping by my space.
      Glad the passalong piece resonates with you. I don't know a better metaphor for life than the garden, as both teach us about birth, growth, love, obsession and more. Garden on.

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  11. Gratitude to Barbara for giving Lee that beautiful begonia and to Lee for mine. It is thriving and flourishing in a shady area of my space. It is by far my favorite perennial. It's spectacular leaves also hold up well in a flower arrangement. I have passed it along to appreciative gardening friends in southeastern Connecticut. One is destined to be a focal point in my daughter's Massachusetts garden. Amazing how many people have benefited from a passionate gardener's gift; truly a gift of joy. Many thanks.

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    1. Carol, when I passed it along to you, I knew this plant was going to get a beautiful workout as an artistic subject; your arrangements rock. Massachusetts and family? Wonderful. Neither Barbara nor I would have guessed how much of New England this little plant from 'Bama would touch.

      Thank *you* for helping spread the beauty.

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    2. Many thanks to Carol, for such a nice comment, and her appreciation for beautiful Begonia grandis. I'm so glad she and others have enjoyed spreading the beauty of the Alabama begonia.

      I've seen Carol's arrangements on your blog when it first began. They are exquisite. Amazing how the stems and leaves would hold up so well. Maybe she'll send you a picture, and you can share with us.

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    3. Yes, I'll bet Carol could work some artistic magic with this grand begonia. If the Muse visits her, and she creates a piece, yes, I'll share it.

      Carol, you listening?

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