The 2022 American Begonia Society Convention—Atlanta, Georgia


(This is Part One of a series of posts that I will write about my trip to the SE during the the fall of 2022.)

Nearly 4 weeks ago I was off to Atlanta for the first time. I was going to say that it seems like it was a long time ago now, and yes, I guess that is true! A lot has happened during the ensuing weeks and I’m even back on the road right now because of a presentation! (Ain’t no rest for the wicked!!!)

We had a wonderful full day going over this manual with Betsy Szymczak and Johanna Zinn. I still have a take-home exam to complete, but it’s on my to-do list! It will be completed soon!

My arrival was a bit early due to Judging School. I decided years ago after the convention in Sacramento that I needed to take this class and I’m glad I set it as a goal. While it’s nothing like learning how to grow plants, it’s ALL ABOUT learning to grow for show and I think that can be an important thing—especially OFF of social media.

Practice judging was a lot like the process we learned at the Gesneriad Society Convention in July.

It is scary to enter a plant in a show. I know because I did it up in Tacoma with some gesneriads. It saddens me that our region is not actively participating in shows, but I still hope that we will, and that others will understand the importance of seeing perfectly grown specimen plants that others have brought in to put on display. Sure, you can be snarky about this, and admittedly, I have been, but I will not deny how much I have learned as a horticulturist from seeing perfect to near-perfect plants in person.

These are not what you will find in a retail space, you can only find these in the homes of collectors who also happen to be talented amateur growers. Most professional growers simply do not have the time or energy to do this, but when you focus on plants at home, you can really hone your skills.

Of course I very much enjoyed the seed sowing seminar.

Seminars took up a lot of my time during my week in Atlanta. Alejandro Perez led a seed propagation session and it was the first I attended. It’s embarrassing to say that I kind of squeal a bit internally while in a room with others sowing seeds, but it gives me pleasure and joy. I have grown so many plants from seed, and I tend to do the act alone, but it just makes me happy to see others learning about and exploring the possibilities.

Time and time again I also find myself saying, “It takes patience—lots and lots of patience.”

A bench filled with lovely plants in one of the back houses at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

There were tours too. I went one day to the Atlanta Botanical Garden and to the Atlanta History Center. I could have spent a lot more time at both and intend to do so when I return again. Atlanta is an amazing city and there is so much to see and do there.

The Smith Farm at the Atlanta History Center represents a working slaveholding farm in the Atlanta area from the time around the 1860s. This is the cabin of the enslaved people.

The Atlanta History Center was an amazing hub of culture. For me, the Smith Farm had a lot of meaning. The original farmhouse was built just before my relatives left from nearby states for Oregon Territory, after having lived in Georgia and South Carolina before, during, and after the American Revolution.

One side of my pioneer family wanted to make Oregon a slavery state, the other did not. I live with this as newcomers move to Oregon and discuss the racist past of the area, and I know that I am descended from some of the people who contributed to this legacy of hate. On the other hand, I’m also descended from the many people of the Mediterranean. This is what I can only say is the karma bestowed on my ancestors. During this trip I came to terms a bit more with being in-between. I’ve learned to be a bit more proud of the line that fought to birth the United States in the beginning. Thank you Alexander McAlpin for your service.

Ozzie Johnson did not disappoint.

My primary goal though was to be here for the hardy begonias and to spend more time with my “people” on the other coast to learn from what they’ve been up to. Ozzie’s talk was one that I was very excited to hear and I’m thrilled we had time to finally get to know one another more.

In addition to traveling overseas to collect plants to introduce here, either through collecting or with permission from nursery people, he’s been breeding hardy begonias for quite some time.

Ok, I may have run off with one of each of Ozzie’s new hybrid introductions.

At the end of his seminar, new hybrids of his were passed around. I will absolutely confess that I got greedy and made sure I had one of each. I’m also happy to add that they all made it home and are happily tucked in the garage now. I plan to grow them on and plant them in the spring when we warm up again. (Since these are trademarked plants I’m going to encourage their purchase by the nurseries where I work—of course!)

This is how I roll when I go on trips. Plants get thirsty too.

On one of the days I was able to go back to the Atlanta Botanical Garden at Gainesville. In addition to having a friend who once worked there, I’m familiar with their overseas collection and conservation program. Dan Hinkley has often collected overseas with Scott McMahan and Ozzie Johnson, and they’ve visited Portland a few times over the years. Last year I met my friend in the parking lot but I was unable to visit the garden because I was there to help them dig up plants on land they were in the process of selling. This year, I got to spend time seeing the facility. For a horticulturist who collects, propagates, and trials plants all of the time, it’s always a great experience to learn more about my craft from others who’ve been working at the same thing on a more advanced level for longer than I have been, and especially, in a different climate.

Maverick Tamayo from the Philippine Taxonomic Initiative, Inc.

Sadly, I did not get to see all of the programs, or go on all of the tours. I didn’t want to sit too much because of my spinal issues, and I had one swelling incident, so I rested for at least one day in my room. With a trip lasting that long, I needed to be careful.

A selection of begonia leaves collected by Scott McMahan of the Atlanta Botanical Garden by the side of the road in NE India. Scott gave a presentation about his May 2022 expedition to Arunachal Pradesh.

The other person I was excited to hear from at the convention was Scott McMahan. While we’d met very briefly a few times back in Portland, I’d actually never sat and listened to him present a talk about his overseas trips and conservation work. Having listened to other plant explorers, I have a new interest in all of this work since I’m working with many of the begonias and gesneriads at home and at work brought to market by our own regional overseas explorers.

Conservation is an interesting topic and I have a lot to learn about it at the international level. Having spent my life focussed on work done in my own region, namely for the sake of our rivers and salmon runs, I think it’s time for me to open up my sphere of interest a bit more.

Stopping to take a picture just before the plant sale closed.

Before the show was opened up to the conference attendees, we were able to shop for plants. I purchased many begonias that I had to care for as I travelled from state to state, but I don’t regret it a bit. In the end I think I only lost one plant in total. That’s not too bad!

Begonia ningmingensis var. bella was the big winner. Grown by Johanna Zinn, this shows you just how large one of these can grow in a nice large dome.

The American Begonia Society Convention was a wonderful show. It was not nearly as large and over-the-top as the only other one I’ve attended in Sacramento, but this was post-pandemic, so…

There were many amazing well-grown specimen plants though, and the Best-in-Show was this lovely Begonia ningmingensis var. bella.

Begonia ‘Mariana’s Monster’ hybridized by Mariana DiVita. This is a newer rex introduction and I was lucky enough to pick one up at the sale.

After the show, I stayed only for a short time on Saturday to see the talk given by Rekha Morris covering begonias in Costa Rica. I had to rush off to the airport to get a rental car and pack up quickly to be on the road by noon.

All in all, the convention was a wonderful experience and I encourage enthusiasts of all levels to attend conventions in the future. They’re worth the effort and cost if you’re an avid grower.

Additionally, I’m going to encourage all of you to participate with your local chapter and volunteer your time to contribute to our national plant societies. If we don’t get younger members, it will be a shame to see these groups disappear.

Posting pics and selling plants online is just not the same thing.

Sorry not sorry.