Saturday, July 25, 2015
Begonia hybrid seedlings
Begonias have been a sorely-needed bright spot in an otherwise bad gardening year. Two cold winters in a row, combined with more than my usual degree of neglect, have taken a hard toll and I've had many losses. But those losses have opened up some opportunities, bringing more sun into what was an increasingly overgrown garden, and opening up some space to try new plants. And among the losses, I've had a few pleasant surprises.
Garden in recovery (note dead palm trunk at lower left)
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the new begonia seedlings I planted out in the garden (see New begonias, off to a late start). At the time they didn't look like much, but what a difference 5 weeks makes!
Begonia bed, June 20
Begonia bed, July 25
The photo at the very top and the one below show closer views of some of these plants, all of them sibling seedlings from the same cross. I'm very pleased with the variety, the vigor, and most of all the beautiful foliage of these plants. These are part of my breeding program for hardy(ish) begonias, and one of the parents has already proven somewhat hardy.
Begonia hybrid seedlings
Despite the rex-like foliage I hesitate to call them "rex begonias" because any actual B. rex ancestry was many generations back, with several other Asian species (e.g., B. deliciosa) also involved. Unlike the rhizomatous B. rex and most of its hybrids, these plants produce upright stems, holding their foliage well above the soil. I've found that these rex-like hybrids do quite well in the ground as long as they have rich, well-drained soil and full but bright shade (although some of these do get a bit of early morning sun). Even better, I've found many of them to be fairly hardy and they have great potential for producing hardier begonia hybrids with ornamental rex-like foliage (see Beyond Begonia grandis: new hardy begonias and Hardy begonias: the next generation).
Many begonias were on my casualty list this spring--including several of my own hybrids that I was trialing in the ground--but a few have proven themselves. One of the survivors is B. pedatifida, a recently introduced Chinese species that is proving to be quite hardy. Now if only I could get it to bloom when I have other begonias to cross it with!
Another survivor is 'Little Brother Montgomery' (see Begonia 'Little Brother Montgomery': a star in the fall garden). This fabulous cultivar is an example of a rex-like begonia that has no B. rex in its ancestry at all: it comes from a cross between B. diadema and B. palmata, two Asian relatives of B. rex. This cultivar has now survived 5 winters in the ground, including my area's two coldest winters in 20 years, with only a light mulch. For a long time this spring I was sure that I had lost this one along with so many others, but finally one of the plants poked up, and then another, and ultimately all of them came up, although a couple of them rather weakly. Even the oldest and most vigorous one won't amount to much this year, but that's okay considering what they've been through.
Begonia 'Little Brother Montgomery' (upper right) with some of my own hybrid seedlings
Where do I go from here? As with all my begonias, winter is the next test. I'll mulch them, cross my fingers, and hope we don't get another 20-year winter!