Begonia Season Begins and Winter Ends!!!

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From now until November plants will be changing from week to week at both of my jobs. This is what I live for!! The rush of our spring “openers” (aka sales) is always like getting ready for a big opening night. We must make sure that our cast of characters are ready, even if this means it’s just their first year in the chorus. Serious shopping and plant hounding has already started. Hardcore collectors I know have somehow acquired many plants through the mail, and by visiting local nurseries—and yet it’s still winter! Folks are arranging for visits out in Canby before we’re officially open. I’m not sure yet what the hot plants of the year will be, but give it a few more weeks, and we’ll be able to tell what’s going on. To be honest, I’m not the gambling type, but this anticipation is exciting.

From what I’ve been seeing for the last few years, I think that the houseplant trend has edged us back to a love of tropicalismo, and a heightened concern about climate change and the future of native pollinators and wildlife has many still wanting regionally appropriate native plant options, as well as more xeric options. But what do I know? I just work at two nurseries and think about plants, and read about plants, all of the time.

Many of the hardy begonias we have at Secret Garden Growers.

While we industry folks do our part to inform the public about what we actually have, I tend to let the plants, the nursery owners, and more influential gardeners among us entice shoppers to purchase and own the many plants we’ve produced. Creating mediocre plant-related content is where I originally stepped into all of this (as a blogger), and it’s funny that I’ve not been great when it comes to posting about all of the plants now that I work with—and handle—them daily, To my credit, I know a hell of a lot more about them today, and yet… This is my own time, and I’m exhausted and yet… Here we go!!!

Just keep in mind as I say this, and before you read more, that media literacy should tell you that I’m not about to sell you on anything, other than a crazy AF lifestyle.

This is Begonia aff. sizemorea DJHV 13160. It’s a plant I loved, lost, loved again, lost again, and now I will try to keep it happy yet ONE MORE time. It’s not hardy at all. I just love it.

Begonias are a passion of mine although it’s often forgotten by many friends and peers since I’m so busy helping to run our local Gesneriad Society chapter. (I’m also a member of the PNW branch of the ABS.)

At my jobs, both businesses require that I know my begonias—and I do. At Cistus Nursery I’m a Begonia Boss, and with the help of several mentors, I began reacquiring plants for our extensive hardy to borderline-hardy begonia collection a few years ago. Articles written by Derick Pitman McDaniel and John Boggan have been helpful with this effort too.

Since I’m of an artistic and comical temperament, my breeding efforts have been slow and confused, but I AM a virgo after all, and I’ve now acquired almost all of the plants they’ve both suggested that I play with in terms of hardiness, as well as potential (possibly successful) breeding candidates, so the game is afoot.

Part of me wishes I could work solely with begonias full-time, but that’s not how the life of this horticulturist works. I need to know a lot about many plants, and so I work in spurts, am distracted, and move on to the next crop that needs to be readied to either be grown on longer, or else prepared for retail. It’s a wonder I can keep track of all that I do, but I like spreadsheets and lists, and it’s important to be able to take and keep organized and detailed notes.

Begonia ‘Ginny’ is a hybrid that’s likely borderline for us here in Portland, but I have my doubts. I guess it’s time to try it out and see what I think once and for all! If you live in a colder climate, this makes a great houseplant and it’s one that we have at Cistus on mail-order right now!

This weekend I will be planting out some of the begonia plants I’ve started over the last few years in my own garden. Since I couldn’t afford to purchase and lose my own stock plants for my own experiments here at home, I had to propagate them, and will need to keep additional backups after this summer.

Luckily, what this means for you dear reader is that you’ll be able to benefit from my need to make more of them at work too. Why is this ok? Well, it’d be great to have more folks playing along during the Great Begonia Hardiness Breeding Game! I’m not saying you need to purchase the plants that I’m working with from my employers (but you can). Rather, I’d like to find more folks out there who are doing this too! Which species or cultivar has worked for you?

If you’re already riding this same wavelength, maybe we should swap some plants for trialing? Yes, you folks who can grow them all year round are lucky ducks. If you want to share plants with those friends of yours (like myself) who live in cooler climates, let’s do it! Aren’t you wondering too about the hardiness of your plants? (Hahahahhahaahahaha. Yeah, I know. That’s a stretch.)

This is Begonia x erythrophylla or a beefsteak begonia. I’ve had this houseplant since I took this photo back in 2010. While Cistus Nursery is not known for selling houseplants, we sell patio or planter plants that often need winter protection.

A volunteer at Cistus decided to propagate A LOT of her Begonia x erythrophylla with us. This is not what volunteers usually do there, but many of our staff are currently in love with begonias so we just let her go for it. While not a hardy begonia, it’s one that we’ll have for sale this year, and I’m thrilled about it since it is stunning in a hanging container. Lots of folks will find it really satisfying and fun to watch grow. There’s nothing quite like those huge pancake-like UFO leaves floating above you.

Begonia ‘Smooch’ is a new plant for me. It is allegedly quite hardy and I look forward to trialing it more.

We have the super hardy species plants floating around at both nurseries along with some of their hybrids. Begonia grandis is the most commonly planted hardy begonia and it can become a greenhouse weed of some renown. Begonia ‘Smooch’ is hybrid of it and probably Begonia chitoensis, so I predict it will be a tough beast, but we won’t know until we see more of it planted in this region. I can’t wait to try it out. (The batch above it nearly ready for retail or the catalog at Cistus Nursery right now.)

Cuttings of Begonia ‘Taconite’.

Somehow, I forgot to take some photos of Begonia ‘Little Brother Montgomery’. It’s been a trooper in my garden for years now and I made two crops of it at Cistus Nursery as well. So instead, we have Begonia ‘Taconite’, a very popular houseplant, that’s also quite a toughie. Allegedly, it too can withstand life in the ground here, but I won’t believe that until I see it. Seems like a legitimate reason to trial it in the garden to see how it goes over the next year.

New growth on Begonia ‘Taconite’

So, if you’ve made it this far and are wondering yet if I’m crazy, let me tell you that the answer to that is, “Duh!”

Yes, I’m a crazy plant lady and I’m in this to have some fun!

How in the world though can I be so nuts as to suggest that non-hardy plants can be hardy? Well, that’s because this is all part of a hardiness game, one where you live in a borderline USDA zone, and you push the plants as hard as you can to survive. How you ask? There are only two very serious rules for begonia survival in the PNW USDA zone 8-ish (to 9) climates.

Summer wet. Winter dry.

Plant these plants under eaves, under evergreen trees, under limbed up shrubs, and water them during the warmer growing months. During the winter, the ground must be dry. If it is too wet, the plants will rot and die.

It’s a fun little gardening game to play, and it’s a great parlor trick to share with your gardening friends and plant allies.

Here’s to experimentation and gardening for one very good reason—curiosity! Have fun out there folks and hip hip hooray to spring being just around the corner!!!

Houseplant Count #15-21

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Recently I’ve been asked to give some online presentations covering houseplants and indoor gardening to different gardening and horticulture groups. In an effort to prepare, I’ll work more on listing everything in my collection in the weeks to come. I have a page on this site just for that. I’ve been updating it as I post but it might help folks before or after my presentations if they’re curious, or want to ask me questions about a certain plant we both might be growing.

Now let’s continue with the individual listings…

Begonia ‘Grey Feather’

Houseplant #15: Begonia ‘Grey Feather’

Begonia ‘Grey Feather‘ is a vintage hybrid I’ve wanted since I first saw it. Just a few months ago cuttings of it ended up in a bag of surprise cuttings I purchased from another Begonia Society chapter plant friend and I squealed a bit when I saw them. As of right now, this is currently one of my favorite plants. I love the leaves and it’s been very easy for me to grow. I’d definitely recommend growing it if you can find one.

Kohleria ‘Snakeskin’

Houseplant #16: Kohleria ‘Snakeskin’

This Kohleria hybrid is one that I originally acquired from Dan Heims of Terra Nova Nurseries and it’s a John Boggan hybrid. Kohleria ‘Snakeskin’ is a wonderful example of how pretty the leaves can be in gesneriads. It’s not always all about the flowers, but they’re a bonus.

Peperomia prostrata

Houseplant #17: Peperomia prostrata

For the last few months my husband has been asking me to add more plants to his office area. During the pandemic many folks have been working more from home and while I knew it would make him more comfortable, I’ve been taking my time setting him up because I’ve been working so much.

Well, once I started to acquire a few new plants, this led to a sudden burst in needing to shop a bit more, and before I knew it, he was all set up. One of the fun plants I added to his area was this Peperomia prostrata. I know from online that it’s a popular plant right now, and I thought that he might enjoy having one to admire. I’m not really sure what he thinks about it, but I was able to pick it up locally at Marbott’s Greenhouse & Nursery so it was fun just to get out to shop and support a local nursery.

Asparagus falcatus

Houseplant #18: Asparagus falcatus

One thing I’ve not said a lot about yet (or recently) is that I love ornamental asparaguses. Yup, I love them so much I may have a bit of a collection of them. It’s one of those funny things Sean Hogan and I have in common. I guess we both like the fact they’re textural and that they can be great container plants. Many of them are borderline hardy in our climate though so I mostly leave the bulk of my collection outside until we have a freeze. This is the only one that’s indoors right now mostly because I like to look upon its soft and prickly visage so much. Yes, this one is soft with big fat thorns.

This Asparagus falcatus is definitely the most beautiful one in my collection. It wasn’t much to look at when it first arrived from Glasshouse Works but it’s had some time to grow and as it’s filled out it’s definitely become more lovely to look at.

Begonia ‘Little Miss Mummey’ (L) and Peperomia ‘Pink Lady’

Houseplants #19 and #20: Begonia ‘Little Miss Mummey’ and Peperomia ‘Pink Lady’

Begonia ‘Little Miss Mummey’ has been in that same pot for way too long. I think it’s time to give her some more room to grow. I found this rooted cutting at one of our local plant club sales and it’s a great example of the sorts of cool plants you can find when you go out to support clubs. So many of the best plants in my collection came from fundraisers. This one will be amazing once I let it grow some more. It is an award-winning Brad Thompson hybrid. It won the American Begonia Society’s Alfred D. Robinson Award for an outstanding cultivar in 2001.

The Peperomia ‘Pink Lady’ came from a small nursery in southern Oregon just north of Ashland. I found it hanging out with a few other pretty plants and I knew I had to have it because the price was right. It has been a bit picky to grow, but once it had pebbles in its cachepot, and it was no longer sitting in any water, it started to reward me with pretty growth.

Schefflera arbicola ‘Variegata’

Houseplant #21: Schefflera arbicola ‘Variegata’

My last plant for this post is a very slow grower. I’ve had it for so long now that Evan forgot passing it on to me at some point during one of their plant purges. I have three different indoor scheffleras and they’re all at different stages in their lives. One was just a small cutting not that long ago and now it’s huge, this one, hmmmmmm, it might grow a few millimeters each year, ok, or maybe an inch or two. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

As someone who works at Cistus Nursery I should be more jazzed about this plant, and I am now that it’s gotten larger, but the indoor scheffleras experience still confuses me. Part of me just wants to plant this outside but I can’t, and I just need to accept that it’s indoors for good.