August 24, 2008

Growing Tuberous Begonias

Blackmore & Langdon Exhibition Begonias

This year I made a significant investment in growing Tuberous Begonias. Two years ago, while attending the Chealsea Flower Show, I saw an amazing display of giant Tuberous Begonias grown by the prestigious British firm Blackmore & Langdon. I was familiar with the firm, mostly for their award winning displays and strains of Delphinium- they are the world's premiere grower, and if you don't believe me, just Google B&L Delphiniums, and make sure you are seated.

I noticed a few years ago that Blackmore & Langdon Tuberous Begonias were being carried in a partnership through the US firm, White FLower Farm, but some bulbs (tubers) were selling for $60 and $75 dollars US, with one variety selling for an astonishing $125! Upon visiting White Flower Farm the following summer, I entered one of their greenhouses and instantly I could see why these plants were so expensive. All I could say is wow.  Still, $125 for a tuberous begonia is far too steep for even me.

My solution? I order my B&L Exhibition begonias direct from England, from the Blackmore and Langdon website.  Here is a link -  B&L nursery - founded in 1910, they are the world's finest grower of award winning Tuberous Begonias and Delphinium, and they have been for nearly 120 years. These tubers can retail for up to $125. each in the US, but can be ordered direct from B&L for a third of the cost. One cannot compare these plants with the inexpensive weak strains of tuberous begonias one finds in peat-filled poly bags at garden centers in the spring. If you can afford one, try one of these next year. These tubers are all about pedigree and provenance, and with hardly anyone breeding new varieties today, B& L is one of the last places on earth to find the choice, exhibition strains.

Tuberous Begonia 'Tahiti'

If you are a regular reader of GROWING WITH PLANTS, you may remember my post on Tuberous Begonias last January. Briefly, while visiting White Flower Farm, America's premier premium mail-order nursery, I visited a greenhouse with a display of the Blackmore & Langdon Exhibition begonias which the nursery exclusively sells in North America. The display was stunning, and being one who prefers species over gaudy hybrids, and all, I had to admit that sometimes, abundance and gooeyness has it's place, after all, pretty is, well, pretty. And we can all use a little pretty, some time. Especially in late August, when
'pretty' in the world of flowers, has to try a little harder.

An seedling or un named variety, from B&L, available for even less than $15.00. Still, just as beautiful, isn't it? Sometimes, paying $30 to $74 for an exhibition quality variety is not necessary.

Another of the B&L un-named seedling bulbs. A beautiful pink shade.

Blackmore & Langdon 'Primrose'

Blackmore & Langdon Tuberous Begonia 'Golden Hind' in our greenhouse

Blackmore & Langdon Tuberous Begonia 'Melissa'

It may seem as if White Flower Farm is over charging those of us in the US for B&L tuberous begonia tubers, but one must understand their pedigree, as well as the cost of importing these finest of the finest begonia tubers. If you have any question regarding their value, then I urge you to visit White Flower Farm during the summer and see these plants for yourself. Or better yet, do what I did and order a few of these incredible varieties for your self to grow.

B&L Begonias are not inexpensive but they will outshine any Dutch grown tuber if you buy those bagged varieteis in the spring from the big box stores, or from a value mail order source. You get what you pay for when it comes to most plants. But if you are looking for value, I suggest ordering the B&L seedling tubers, which sell for much less, around $15. per tuber. But order in January, for they sell out quickly. Even I, who often thinks little about dropping $75. for a rare South African Bulb, shrieks at the thought of a Tuberous Begonia selling for $80. Let alone $125.. I agree that ordering from the White Flower Farm catalog might not as be as cost efficient as ordering direct from England, but it is easier, and if you are only planning on ordering a couple of tubers, the shipping cost alone from the UK makes White Flower Farm a more economical source.

Un-named Picotee variety from the more inexpensive mixed selections from B&L in England.

B&L 'Saturn'

Each year, I order direct, from Blackmore & Langdon in the UK, and each year I am impressed with the results. It works out well for me, as I generally order about 25 tubers, so the shipping cost makes sense.  Arguably, paying $35.00 US for a Tuberous Begonia is still a luxury for most people but as there are no longer any breeders selling US grown bulbs, there are few choices.

My Tuberous Begonia project had me growing nearly 50 varieties, which I ordered in January, and started under lights indoors in February.  A few reminders about ordering from B&L.

1. Order early, most varieties sell out by December.
2. Try the unknamed seedlings, many of these are equally as stunning, and if you are not going to exhibit them, why not. Make up a name for your friends. I'm thinking of some of the unknamed pinks as, 'Paris Hilton', or a yellow as 'Legally Blonde'.
3. Don't give up on White Flower Farm, commercial? Sure, but I would imagine that they tubers they carry are prob. the premium size, and if you can afford them, they are the only source in the US.

B&L 'Sugar Candy' - Remember - these are dinner plate sized flowers

Other Begonia species and various fiberous forms, spending the summer on the back porch. Late summer is when most Begonia's start to really shine.

Overall, I have been happy with these given that this year was terribly rainy, and I had kept them plants on the deck too long, and they started to rot the foliage a bit. June and early July was too hot to keep them in the greenhouse, but I have found that most of my Begonias like to spend the summer on the back porch, where they can dry out a bit between waterings, and not get rained on. The greenhouse, even with shade cloth, does get too hot in July. By August, I move most plants back into the greenhouse, since cooler evenings start to arrive around the third week. It was 45 deg. F here Monday night, but 90 degrees F today.

1 comment :

  1. Anonymous9:00 AM

    i have been buying and growing begonias from tubers for over 40 years and have found that they do not need much attention at all. they will grow in cool conditions outdoors or grow as pot plants indoors. i live in brighton on the south coast of uk and i grow them on my terrace 5 floors up and they do just fine john weeks brighton uk cn


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