Saturday, 2 April 2016

begonia fuchsioides

I potted up my newly acquired Begonia fuchsiodes this morning.  I first saw one growing last September in a container at Abbotsbury, where it had made a bushy shrub a couple of feet tall, and loved it instantly.  The plant had two labels, one giving its name and the other announcing rather tersely We do not sell this plant.  Obviously I was not the only person to have fallen big time for its charms, and the staff in the shop were fed up with answering the requests of soon-to-be disappointed customers.

I hunted around on line, and it did not seem to be the easiest plant to buy.  Then I found a nursery in Devon that had them, but I did not want to order one in the middle of winter, and when I looked again last month it had disappeared from their website.  Somebody else had the red flowered version, but I wanted the pink.  Then I discovered that Fibrex Nurseries, who have been around and exhibiting at RHS shows for years specialising in pelargoniums and ferns, had branched out into conservatory plants and were offering pink flowered Begonia fuchsioides on their website.  And yesterday it turned out that they were selling conservatory plants as well as pelargoniums on their stand at Vincent Square, and I saw they had a Begonia in a one litre pot.

The label said that it required a minimum winter temperature of five degrees.  I asked the elder of the two women on the stand if this was really the case, and she told me I must speak to her daughter. who frowned and said yes, really, it didn't want to go lower.  I am sure our conservatory dips close to freezing in the winter on cold nights, though I don't think it has ever fallen below, and I regretfully put the pot down again, but as I walked away I saw how pretty the larger specimen looked in their display, and thought that I could surely manage to overwinter one somehow.  Maybe it could go in my bathroom, if I were to evict the spider plant, or in front of the glass door in the study, which we don't want to open regularly in the cold months.  Or perhaps it would be happy sitting on the base of a heated propagator.  I went back to buy it, and the strict nursery woman's mother told me that was the last one they had left at the show.

Starting to search for more information about it on the web, rather late in the day as I am already committed to trying to look after the Begonia, I have already found an old Telegraph article by Mary Keen which talks about having seen it growing it outside under a yew hedge with only the benefit of a mulch in winter.  Perhaps it does not need such a warm winter as the strict lady said.  I did have my doubts, since I wondered whether Abbotsbury manages to maintain a space for overwintering plants at as much as five degrees.  That's a lot to keep up all winter.  And I am increasingly finding that other begonias seem to survive the winter in the conservatory as long as they are kept dry.

As to why I love it so much, who can say why we fall for some plants?  It has smallish, slightly fleshy, dark green, oval (which in botanist's terms means pointed at both ends and fat in the middle, a prototypical leaf shape), slightly toothed leaves.  The flowers are not big, shaped like typical begonia flowers, and dangle down in little clusters.  It is sweet.  Not glamorous, not sophisticated, but with a guileless, dainty charm.  And it should be happy in shade, which is handy since the conservatory faces north west and gets pretty shady towards the back.

According to Mary Keen it is easily propagated from cuttings.  I shall try my hand at some, once the plant has grown a little.  It is quite brittle, and a few pieces fell off on the way home, so it has some ground to make up just to get back to square one.  I have no idea why Abbotsbury didn't sell them, though, if they really are easy to propagate and people want them.

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