Monty Don hates them – really hates them.
He has described them as ‘repulsively ugly’ and, way back in 2000, he started a prolonged attack in The Observer with this comment:
“If begonias were a song, they would be the kind of maudlin croon performed by a ‘family entertainer’ in a toupee. The leaves have a bat’s-wing quality, with colourings reminiscent of the pavement outside a pub at closing time on a Saturday night.”
But the tide is turning for these plants and they are having a bit of a revival, especially with younger, urban gardeners who are looking for something bright, dependable and a little exotic.
Last year they were plant of the year for the National Gardening Bureau in the US and they predict a growing trend in popularity this year. And why not? For a start there are a lot of different types so are we to sweep them all aside as vulgar? It’s worth getting your head around what they have to offer the British gardener. The RHS divides outdoor ones suitable for our summer into 3 categories:
Cultivars which are usually derived from Begonia × tuberhybrida are a favourite of gardeners for their bright colours and long flowering season. Male and female flowers are borne separately on the same plant, the male flowers being the showiest. Selections and hybrids of B. boliviensis such as Begonia ‘Million Kisses’ are also available and are excellent free flowering plants for baskets and pots.
Hardy tuberous begonia can be an exotic addition to shady borders particularly in late summer. The most hardy to try is Begonia grandis subsp. evansiana AGM, which is hardy down to 0°C (32°F).
These fibrous-rooted, tender perennial begonias are usually grown as annuals. Their flowers can be white, pink or red and are produced throughout the summer until the first frosts. The compact plants can also have attractive foliage. They are one of the few bedding plants that are satisfactory in partial shade. Grow from seed or buy young plants.