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January 27, 2008

Bargain Excellence and Authenticity =TUBEROU$ BEGONIA$


Blackmore & Langdon's Tuberous Begonias at Chelsea Flower Show, London
Just as with so many other things which are evaluated, judged and valued; plants have their top-of-the-line, highest quality varieties-simply said, the best. And so I start my journey in search of Tuberous Begonias, the best-of-the-best. Which brings me to the United Kingdom's, Blackmore & Langdon, a grower with over a century of experience and expertise breeding and exhibiting award winning Tuberous Begonias, as well as other plants, most notably, Delphiniums.

B&L are hardly new to me, I really can't remember when I first became familiar with the company, but I know that I was very young, either my parents grew some plants, since I completely remember their wood crates, with Blackmore & Langdon London burned into them.

And,Tuberous Begonias are not rare, nor even hard to find. Any home center, garden shop or nursery carry dozens of varieties right now, since February and March are the time to start growing these tuberous plants indoors, so that they can get a start before being moved outside to shaded decks or to a conservatory. Tuberous Begonia are just forgotten - not seen that much growing in our modern world. Sadly, the reason have more to do with money, than availability. Oh, and education, for young gardeners never really see them available, except in bright commercial netted bags that don't look very promising, at home centers.

Nurserymen don't bother with them anymore, they don't sell in spring, because they don't bloom until August, and the growers greenhouse benches are too valuable for non-flowering young plants. So, consumers never get to see them growing, nor in bloom. If they did, they would fly out faster than a blue hydrangea on Mothers Day. Too bad we can't make the days longer in spring! We miss out on so many of the best, the best petunias, the best snapdragons, the best vegetables, for one simple reason - commercial plant breeders breed for what looks good or blooms early in the 6 pack. Just read any commercial seed catalog - quality is defined by what come into bloom early, not by what performs well later, when planted. We are constantly sacrificing quality in the garden for fast-selling good-looking 6 packs. Ugh. (remove soapbox)

Now, do not confuse these begonias with others that look the same, there are seed grown forms, which never grow with quite the gusto of the classic, tuber grows forms, and then there are look-alike, either hybrid German grown pot-flowers for Easter or Mothers Day, these are not the same. Tuberous Begonias are rarely found, anymore, so I have selected them as my "re-discover plant' for 2008 (just as I did last year with Achemines), this year, I am on a mission to fill my greenhouse for the summer, with a massive display of Tuberous Begonias, and so, my mission begins, now. In late January, since this is the time to order tubers.



OK, I admit, I had a love/hate relationship with White Flower Farm,but as many of you know, as I rediscover them, and learn even more, I like where they are positioning themselves, at least from a quality perspective. Sure there are specialist growers, and I always go to them first, but sometimes, believe it or not, the premium place, is the only place to go. Value can be found in the mass market catalog, and in the black and white photocopied plant list, too, but you must know what you are buying. Many of WWF's material is pricey, but much of is is exclusive, and not available elsewhere. That's worth something. Before you buy, be certain that you inform yourself first. I know they are expensive, but there often is a reason. A yellow Clivia may not be worth their $60.00, since Logees may sell one for $19.95, but perhaps the size is difference, or cultivar. A rare division of a named form, like Sir John Thouron may, indeed be worth the $995.00.,to a collector, since there are only a dozen available world wide. So before you run around complaining that "I can't believe that they are selling a yellow clivia for $1000. buck when I can get one for $20.00 bucks!" Just make sure that it is justifiable. Is Sir John Thouron worth it? Who can really answer that, part of this is collecting and rarity, and part of this is about authenticity and quality. Either way, the market for rare, will only become greater as we move on in our culture of sameness.

Now, back to Begonias, I imagine that there are many who will look at the WWF catalog, see Tuberous begonias inside, then see the prices, $39.00 per tuber - ! $60.00 per tuber.........$125.00 per tuber!!! and, well, react. Yikes, I can get those for a buck at my garden center. But wait......can you? Are these BEGONIAS really so special to justify $100. a tuber?

In a way, they are.They are Blackmore and Langdon varieties. What are Blackmore and Langdon varieties anyway, and are they really all that great? First, we can say that no one else carry's them in the USA. Blackmore and Landgon only sells in the US, through White Flower Farm, they even have two plow horses named Blackmore and Landon. So if you want your shaded porch to look like the Exhibition Hall at Chelsea Flower Show, with B&L Begonias, in 12 inch clay pots, and their 6 inch brilliant flowers stopping traffic in August, then White Flower Farm, is your only choice.

But.......why not order from Blackmore and Langdon in the UK yourself? They ship to the USA,and If you have a Paypal account, the same variety at White Flower Farm can be obtained for about a third of the cost. It's a little late though, since B&L sell out of most varieties by mid January, but they allow you to pre-order for next year. They are still pricey, but $15.00 a tuber is still better, and, they offer all of the varieties (although, there are some exclusive WWF varieties). Un ndammed form are even less, I just placed another order, and some are still in-stock.

Are there other choices? Sure, America has their own Begonia growers, and most people will never know the difference that provenance brings, try Antonelli Brothers , in California, a 70 year old Begonia nursery in Watsonville, CA. Tubers here, are reportedly HUGE, and I have been told that they provide equally impressive results. I am trying them for the first time, so stay tuned.

My point is, regardless how you feel about brands and brand names, there is a real difference between authenticity and brands, why settle for store-bought ordinary bulbs, or pre-packaged tubers, all which come from a handful of Dutch distributors, with a handful of varieties. The same 12 varieties carried by most mass-market nurseries, garden centers and home stores. Why not go directly to the real growers, the real breeders, those who exhibit, edit, breed, and who are proud of what they grow. Go to the specialists, if you are going to invest all that time and money watering, fertilizing, then enjoying, why not do it right? Try one of these premium growers, and see what results you get.

1 comment :

  1. Can't wait to see the pics of all your tuberous-exuberance this summer.

    If I may respectfully suggest to TB novices that they do try inexpensive tubers the first time. Tuberous begonias do not like hot, humid weather and especially hot, humid nights. They go into a kind of suspended animation (at best) and bloom poorly if at all. It's important to see if they will thrive in the growing conditions you can provide.

    I've tried them in many places with both success and failure. Failure in the middle of the city (Manhattan) except when I had a roof garden, and the lively air up there definitely helped them. They are also quite successful close to the seashore around here. It's common knowledge that they thrive along the Pacific coast and in WFF-land (New England) and generally high up in the mountains elsewhere.

    I'd say try the cheapie tubers first and if you can grow them well, spring for the luxe stuff later. I guess a real gardener would ease the pain of the high price with the knowledge that these guys can be propagated with ease and you'll soon have flocks and herds from that one expensive tuber!

    I did discover the B&L website thanks to your informative and enjoyable links. Do you have any other tips or insights that could improve success with these wonderful plants? Thanks!

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