Ever Blooming Begonias

In a genus containing approximately 1400 plant species, begonias are not short of variety these days. It all dates back to pre-1700 when a French botanist, Charles Plumier, started the tradition of naming plants in honour of other botanists by naming begonias after Michel Bégon. William Brown was responsible for sending the very first live begonia, begonia minor, to Europe in 1777, and by 1847 seventy or eighty species were already cultivated. As they say, the rest is history.

Of all the begonia cultivars, semperflorens is one of the most popular ones commercially available. The secret to why they are so loved is cleverly wrapped up in their name. Semperflorens, meaning ‘ever blooming’ or ‘ever flowering’ is exactly what one would want from a bedding plant. In fact, every garden should be ever blooming, don’t you think?

Bedding, or wax begonias are such easy plants to grow. In fact, their origin species, B. cucullata was introduced quite by accident to the Berlin Botanical Garden when a hidden seed germinated. With some average to moderately fertile, well draining soil, either acid or alkaline these floriforous beauties only ask that you keep their bed moist but not soaked. They’ll even tolerate a mild drought, at a push.

To plant in the sun, or the shade, that is the question. It depends on what you want from your begonias as to what that answer is, because luckily they really don’t mind. Begonias reach for the sun when they’re starved of it, growing taller and spreading out more, a little like an umbrella, so can be planted further apart in the shade. Deeper shade is tolerable if that’s the gap you have to fill but you’ll have to compromise by accepting you’ll have less blooms.

When planting them in the sun, it’s essential to bring them closer together so that the smaller umbrella of leaves will manage to shade the ground between the plants and that it will do so sooner to avoid the soil heating up too much. Begonias are not fans of sweaty feet while they’re settling in, so using mulch to keep the soil cool, straight after planting, would go a long way to establishing healthy and happy adult plants.

Bedding begonias require very little maintenance, offering an incredible show of flowers for most of the year and are available from dwarf sizes for pots and hanging baskets to some 30-40cm tall varieties which can be used to create borders in the back of a flower bed. While they won’t survive a heavy or black frost, they could pull through mild winters if you don’t mind keeping some scrappy looking plants in your beds for a few months. They’ve been a favourite in home gardens for generations and one doesn’t need three guesses to figure out why.

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