I’ve been away from begonias for a while. Not fibrous begonias–I never bothered to grow them. I think they’re stupid plants. Not enough bloom, not attractive enough bloom, and the fat, fleshy leaves are unattractive to me. Even the fact that they thrive in shade isn’t enough to make me cozy up to them. They always remind me of bad municipal plantings, the edging you see around the leftover Civil War cannon on the town square.
There’s another kind of begonia, though—tuberous begonias. And they are wondrous things. I grew them a lot in hanging baskets in my gardens in the city. I kept them in the baskets because the tubers–like a bulb, or a corm, really—are expensive, and having them up off the ground lessens the chances they’ll be gobbled up by slugs and beetles. Tuberous begonias have smooth, plump, waxy flowers that look a little like loose, lazy roses. The same plant, as shown above, has male and female flowers; the “male” is the showier, naturally. The colors are gorgeous, everything from rich, molten gold and lipstick red to baby-tickle pink. The leaves are interesting as well, pointed and crinkled and deep, deep green, for extra contrast with the flowers.
Tuberous begonias are easy as pie to grow. Plant them, water them, maybe fertilize a little. Visitors always notice them; they really stand out in the garden crowd. So this summer, I’m going back to begonias. You can also buy the plants, fairly cheaply, even at the supermarket and Lowe’s. And if you shake the tubers free of dirt come autumn and store them in a cool (not freezing) dry place, in some peat moss or shredded newspaper, you’ll get to grow them all over again the next year!
There are also handsome foliage-only begonias that make great houseplants. There’s a new one out that I love, called ‘Escargot,’ French for “snail,” which is the perfect name. Here it is:
Tuberous begonia photo by Freekee; ‘Escargot’ by Nathan Kramer.