What makes begonias good garden plants?

Geoff Stonebanks explains how he uses garden begonias in his award winning garden

The fiery contrast of dark foliage with glowing orange flowers of Begonia 'Embers' is perfect for this garden fireplace Image: Geoff Stonebanks

I’d not really had many begonias in my garden at Driftwood, until a few years ago. Begonias were not a plant I’d grown to love. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with these garden stalwarts and here is why. Begonias flower prolifically right through the summer. They are low maintenance and pack a powerful punch when planted into pots and containers.

Roaring success

One day I acquired an old fireplace, given to me by a friend locally. I decided to place it against a fence in the garden and create a stand out feature. Once done, I needed a metal grate to set it off, followed by a plant to go in it that would resemble the burning fire!

Focal points like this garden fireplace season the garden at Driftwood by sea
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Enter the gorgeous Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’ which positively smoulders all summer long. Its dark purple-bronze foliage contrasts with fiery, almost luminous orange blooms for an enduring display that really does resemble the burning embers in the grate. This dramatic begonia has a compact, semi-cascading habit that looks spectacular spilling from baskets and containers too. It has a fabulous blaze of colour that will even brighten up those tricky shady corners of the patio, or even a fireplace! To say it was a success is an understatement.

The fiery contrast of dark foliage with glowing orange flowers of Begonia ‘Embers’ is perfect for this garden fireplace
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Garden worthy

Begonias are generally easy to grow, assuming you have very early morning sun or light shade that most of them prefer. My spot by the fence fits that bill with the greenhouse obscuring most of the harsh sunlight. When it comes to begonias there are such a rich variety of different types, in colors ranging from soft and delicate to sizzling and bold. Begonias generally do best in light, rich, well-drained soil that’s kept on the slightly moist side, but never soggy. Water when the top of the soil feels dry to the touch and remember to pinch off blossoms and leaves as soon as they begin to discolor. Needless to say, I feed mine with Flower Power, along with the rest of the garden, usually every ten days through the summer.

Wonderful variety

Traditionally begonias were grown as houseplants and or planted out en masse in shaded summer beds. Some are grown for their asymmetrical, patterned and variegated foliage, these make amazing houseplants. While others add color to shady garden areas with their bright blooms. The great thing about begonias is that a few plants pack a big punch of color and interest. They can be used in containers, hanging baskets and bedding schemes and provide continuous colour throughout the summer until the first frosts. They are easy to care for too.

Begonia favourites

Another variety that I have growing in the garden is the fascinating Begonia ‘Garden Angels’, both the plum and silver strains. They have shimmering metallic leaves (think angel wings) with deep veins and a crimped appearance and will bring unsurpassable drama to your garden. The striking foliage is embellished by sprays of small blooms in late summer.

When it comes to begonias it’s not all about the flowers. This silver ‘Garden Angel’ has fabulous leaves
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

They are quite robust too, tolerating temperatures down to 3C (38F). I have had mine now since 2015 and if protected in frost free conditions these tougher begonias will die back to the crown in winter and reappear the following spring with a fresh crop of vibrant foliage. With an upright, bushy habit, Begonia ‘Garden Angels Collection’ are well suited to tropical themed borders and containers. I tend to keep mine in the heated greenhouse over winter.

Pink splashed leaves are a feature of this lovely Begonia ‘Garden Angels Plum’
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Another begonia I have had in the garden for the last few years is begonia ‘Apricot Shades’. I first bought it online loving its stunning colours. It is quite easy to grow too. More importantly, it is as versatile as it is beautiful! You will get large, cascading, apricot blooms pouring from your containers from June through to October. These tuberous begonias will perform whatever the weather and can be placed in sunny or semi shaded positions. The abundant trailing habit makes them a great value plant for hanging baskets and window boxes giving you a really impressive display that will light up even a shady corner.

Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ is a star performer at Driftwood by sea
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Tender loving care

It is useful to acclimatise begonia plants to outdoor conditions after the last frost, over a period of 7 to 10 days, before planting them in their final positions in containers, beds and borders. Choose a sunny or semi shaded position that is protected from strong winds.

I have grown to love begonias so maybe it’s time for you to give these beautiful plants a closer look and see if they deserve a spot in your garden this summer. There are thousands of varieties to choose from, so why not experiment this summer with some of the stunning giant-flowered ones from Richard Jackson’s Garden.

 

Geoff Stonebanks

About Geoff Stonebanks

Geoff Stonebanks lives in Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex and spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden - Driftwood - he has raised over £131,000 for various charities in 9 years, £80,000 of that for Macmillan. The garden, which first opened to the public in 2009 has featured on BBC2 Gardeners' World, Good Morning Britain and in many national and local media publications. In his spare time, Geoff is also an Assistant County Organiser & Publicity Officer in East & Mid Sussex for the National Garden Scheme.
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