Think that fibrous-rooted begonias are dinky little plants just for edging summer bedding displays? Think again, says plantsman Graham Rice
We always tend to think of fibrous-rooted begonias as small, bushy little plants for window boxes, small containers and edging.
The most dependably colourful of summer bedding plants, their neat, waxy, bronze or green leaves coupled with red, pink or white flowers just keep coming from June to the frosts.
But it was rare to see varieties taller than about 23cm (9in), and 15cm (6in) was more common.
Now, all that has changed, and developments are heading in the other direction...
Big and beautiful - and useful too
In recent years big and bold varieties reaching almost 3ft (90cm) tall have been developed. They make very impressive plants. These large fibrous-rooted begonias are valuable in two situations. As specimens in containers they are superb; in terracotta pots up to 45cm (18in) across they have real presence, with a nice balance of attractive glossy foliage and pretty flowers. They grow quickly, making bushy plants that branch repeatedly and produce showers of flowers until frosted in autumn. You can even bring them into the conservatory to flower into winter.
They can also be grown in half barrels and in very large pots in sumptuous mixed plantings with cannas, dahlias, colocasias, foliage helichrysums and tumbling calibrachoas, and their repeatedly-branching growth ensures that every space is filled with foliage and flowers.
In sunny and partially-shaded borders they are also valuable. In the middle ground their informal style allows them to blend well with perennials and other annuals. They fill space quickly and, being much larger than other begonias and many other summer annuals, relatively few plants are needed. Begonias are one of the more difficult annuals to raise from seed, so buying plugs or young plants is a more viable option.
Different growth habits
Five series of plants of this type are now found in catalogues and garden centres, in increasing order of height:
Dragon Wing Series (see photo, above) is spreading in growth and has green leaves and red or pink flowers. 30-40cm (12-14in).
Ikon Series is spreading with pale pink flowers and green or bronze leaves. 30-40cm (12-16in).
Baby Wing Series is upright and comes in two green-leaved colours, pink and white, plus a bronze-leaved white. 35-45cm (14-18in).
Big Series is upright with two bronze-leaved colours, red and pink, and a green-leaved red. 50-60cm (20-24in).
Whopper Series, (see below) the largest, is upright and comes in both green and bronze-leaved forms, with red or pink flowers. 75-85cm (30-34in).
Most catalogues only list one series, and often only in a mixture. In garden centres, again, only one series will usually be stocked but plants may well be sold individually so you can choose the colours you prefer.
All provide real impact and their large size means you need relatively few plants – they provide a genuine combination of colour and value.