MY ONGOING BEGONIA AND GESNERIAD DENIAL

This Petrocosmea, may change your mind about gesneriads – those African Violet relatives that just may make better terrarium plants than, well, terrarium plants. I am convinced once other garden bloggers catch on, these will be as popular as succulents. Oh, and in case you are wondering, succulents make sucky terrarium plants. With it’s Epic Fibonacci-ness aside. It’s really true: – “once you go hairy, it ain’t so scary” – Cool rooms, bright light.
A collection of small, Petrocosmea plants.

Sometimes, I am just my own worst enemy. Sure, I can just keep saying it over and over again to people – ” well, you know….I just can’t get that interested in gesneriads or even begonias for that matter. I don’t have the room, and they really don’t interest me that much.”.

Right.

OK, OK…I am kind-of a ‘social collector ‘of gesneriads and begonias. As in “I only do them on weekends”. Besides, sorry folks, but I just I can’t every single plant society….(or can I?). I’d love to, but perhaps not just now. I just ‘dabble’ in various genera, like a few of you, I know!

Since the American Begonia Society held it’s national show in nearby Natick, MA a month ago, this show was not judged (the begonia portion), but this particular group – The Buxton Branch of the American Begonia Society is rather famous among plant societies. You can find out more, here.

This smart Rhizomatous begonia ‘Tiger Kitten’ comes was entered by Mary Beth Hayes, of Chelmsford, MA. Still young, this will make a fine specimen plant.

I left this weekends duo exhibition at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA with two begonias and one gesneriad ( a very nice one that was gifted to Joe by a member because he asked for a cutting). So clearly, they are making their way into the collection bit by bit. And just because I placed an order for more African Violets and have dedicated an entire bench to fibrous begonias in the greenhouse doesn’t mean that I have any interest at all in the plants. End of story.

This Rhizomatous begonia ( my favorite, if I liked begonias) is a striking variety called ‘Persian Brocade’ This was raised by Jocelyn Sherman of Middletown, RI.

Most serious begonia growers raise their plants in glass containers.
This rather exotic looking Columnea minor looks anything but minor. A twining, rambling plants, it’s blossoms where extraordinary. Within a genus of over 200 species, this one makes it on my wish list. I think you can find one here when they are back in stock, or here. What a magnificent windowsill plant, and I would never ever think of ordering one, simply from the catalog shots. You really need to see the whole plant full grown.

If you live in an apartment, or don’t have a greenhouse, the broad and highly interesting group of plants known collectively as Gesneriads ( mainly those within Gesneriaceae), offer tremendous diversity in both size, and habit. We all know about the most common family members, the Siningia (Gloxinia is one) and Sainpaulia (the African Violets), but there are SO many more to discover. You may be surprised at how many gesneriads you can collect, from the tiniest gems only an inch or so wide, to massive outdoor perennials. Mostly, they are warm, tropical and fuzzy leaved yet some have glossy leaves. Some are vining, while others grow in perfect rosettes. Most have spectacular flowers.

…although the judges seems to think otherwise.

Without defending my position any more, here are some very poor iPhone images from this past weekends’ shows at Tower Hill. All kidding aside, both gesneriads (those often fuzzy-leaved plants in the same family as African Violets) and begonias make terrific terrarium and window-sill plants, and they make for a curious and interesting option to most plants sold as terrarium plants, so look for them either on-line (some of my favorite sources for really interesting terrarium plants are listed below) or at your better garden centers.

I’m not sure how I feel about these newer Streptocarpus varieties, but they sure are striking.

So here is my problem. While at the show, people would spot me as ask why I didn’t enter anything, and i would respond with one of my typical excuses (afraid to admit the truth, which was that I just wanted to be a little selfish with my time). I do like African Violets and Streptocarpus though, and it is usually around mid autumn when I crave new or memorable old varieties for my winter windows. These are perfect indoor plants, either under artificial light, or on east, or west – even northerly exposure windows. Who doesn’t want some color when it is snowing outside?

Related to the florist Gloxinia, this Sinningia bullata x sinning tubiflora grows from a bulb-like structure.

These excuses such as “I am not really all that ‘into’ begonia’s only took me ‘so far’, since it appears that most of these people were blog followers ( oh…right….that blog). Dang.

‘We know you have amazing begonias” shouted one person.

Another said “Oh, I know you! I follow your blog – look…. (as she showed me photos of some of the dahlia varieties I had suggested that readers might like to grow.”.

The same woman then showed me English Sweet Peas that she grew herself, after taking my class last winter at Tower Hill Botanic Garden. That’s so nice to see! I love it when people actually have success with trying new things. FYI – my next class is in early November – Raising Exhibition Chrysanthemums – reserve your seat today!

Ugh, ‘that’ blog. It always gets me in trouble!

So much for being anonymous.

GO now and stock-up on some fabulous house plants before it gets too cold to order them! Come this winter, you will thank me.

Sources – in the US:

Lyndon Lyon – African Violets and Gesneriads

Kartuz Greenhouses – for loads of interesting gesneriads and tropicals

The Violet Barn – Nice Streptocarpus (and African Violets)

Mountain Orchids – Amazing dwarf begonias and smaller orchids, ferns and curiosities.

Logee’s Greenhouses – Some nicer Streptocarpus and interesting terrarium plants as well.

Interested in knowing more?

Try the Gesneriad Society

Or the American Begonia Society

and look for local chapters near you and be sure to check their links for more plant sources.

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