Botanical name: Begonia was named in honour of the French amateur botanist of the 17th century Michel Bégon. There are literally hundreds of species and named varieties, mostly the result of the breeders’ efforts. They are divided into eight groups, the most widely grown kinds being Tuberhybrida and Semperflorens, used in pots of summer colour. Begonia tuberhybrida means the hybrid begonia with large tubers and Begonia semperflorens means the ever-flowering begonia, a reference to its summer-long flowering. The most popular indoor begonia, grown for its colourful foliage, Begonia rex means the king begonia. Begonia sutherlandii is a cute little species for the greenhouse or indoors, 15cm tall with yellow flowers and pea-sized tubers, a feature of many begonia species.

Family: Begonia has its own distinctive family, the Begoniaceae, typically with off-centre leaves. Like many South American plants, begonias are very intensely coloured, mostly in shades of orange, red and yellow to attract pollinating hummingbirds. Pinks, dark reds and white with many bicolours have been bred. The flowers size and shape varies enormously too. The basic flower, without any selection, is simple with four petals. These have been highly bred to give male flowers with many petals, the pollen carrying stamens, converting to petals. These flowers can be huge, literally as big as a saucer. Other kinds have narrower more natural-looking flowers, although some species and cultivars can have small flowers.

Garden value

The great thing about begonias is their versatility — they can be grown in the open ground in flower beds and borders, look wonderful in pots, window boxes and hanging baskets, and can be used in pots in the greenhouse for summer colour, and in the house itself in a sunny window. Few plants can be used in so many ways and in each case, they provide vibrant and intense colour and beautifully shaped flowers.

Apart from the size, the plants can have upright or pendulous flowers. The upright kinds have the largest flowers and these are superb in pots, especially for greenhouse and indoor use. The large flowers are very heavy when wet and may topple over so they often need a light cane for support. The pendulous types are better for outdoor use especially in pots and other containers. Either kind can go in the open ground.

Used in the open ground, they should be placed as spots of colour at the front of a flower bed or border, where they can be seen. The colours are very rich and some consideration needs to be given as to which other flowers are nearby. The hot colours of begonias would not look well with pale colours, but look great when trying to create a tropical look in a border, especially with dark foliage.

Growing begonias

Tuberous begonias are very easy to grow. The tubers are available in garden outlets and they are not expensive. Purchase the tubers right away. If you can see some signs of growth, tiny buds in the hollow of the tuber, so much the better. But the growth of these shoots should not be long and drawn. Choose varieties by colour and by type. The tubers must be started off in spring, usually in March and grown on in pots until planted out. This can be done on a window sill without a greenhouse. They will be close to flowering when planted out, the first flower buds showing.

To start off the tubers now, fill a seed tray or some small pots with potting compost and water it well. Allow it to drain a little and gently push the tubers into the surface of the compost with the hollow side uppermost. Give another light watering and place the tray in a greenhouse or window sill indoors. Give very little or no water until the shoots are a couple of centimetres long. Wet compost causes the roots to rot and encourages mushroom flies, which eat the roots. After a few weeks, when the shoots are five to eight centimetres tall, the young plants can be transplanted into larger pots for flowering. Then move them into larger pots to flower or plant up in containers or into the open ground in late May. Mix in a good measure of well-rotted garden compost or manure when planting in the open rooting conditions. Water in a dry spell.

Wild flower lawn

Less frequent cutting allows the wild flowers to flower.

In recent years, there has been a great deal of interest in garden wildflower meadows. This approach can suit some rural gardens because it looks natural in a country setting, whereas in an urban garden can look unkempt. The usual way of dealing with this kind of grass area is to cut it now and from the end of March to allow it to grow out, just like a traditional hay meadow. It could be cut in late June or July and a couple of times in summer and early autumn. This is all very well if there is access to cut it with a tractor mower and to bale off the cut hay.

If not, another approach is to treat it as a wildflower lawn, not meadow, and cut more often, but not as often as ordinary lawn. The less frequent cutting allows the wild flowers to flower. Some wild flowers, such as buttercups, daisies, self-heal, clover and birdsfoot trefoil, tolerate mowing well and keep on flowering. This kind of mowing regime can be carried out nicely with a ride-on mower or a walk-behind for smaller areas. No fertilizer or weedkiller is applied, so as to encourage the wild flower content of the sward. The big advantages are less frequent mowing and a show of colourful wildflowers.

This week’s reminders

Fruit, vegetables and herbs

If not done already, pruning of apple and pear trees and blackcurrant bushes should be completed this week because of buds opening. Sow vegetable seeds of most kinds as soon as soil conditions allow. There is usually a good dry spell in late March or early April.


A mild spell gets grass moving very quickly. An application of high nitrogen fertilizer can be given to boost grass. Mowing should be carried out every week or ten days from now on. Use lawn mosskiller if there is heavy moss growth. If there are worn patches, over-sow with lawn seed.

Trees, shrubs and roses

Bush roses and repeat-flowering climbers are growing strongly and should be sprayed against blackspot disease. Apply fertilizer to rose bushes. Feed young shrubs and trees with some general fertilizer to get a boost of growth. Control weeds and grass around the base of young trees.


Gladiolus can be planted directly outdoors from now on. So too can lilies, which can also be potted up for summer flowers. Although it is getting late, it is still possible to divide and plant perennial flowers. It is almost too late to sow bedding flowers because they will flower late.

Greenhouse and house plants

Feed and water all greenhouse plants. Sow seeds of tomatoes for greenhouse growing, without delay, also sweet peppers and chilli peppers, or wait to use purchased plants. Sow basil seeds indoors. Re-pot house plants that need it. Clean the dust off the foliage of house plants and feed.

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