I have a great fondness for Begonia - they are so well suited to the Sydney climate. There are annual, groundcover and shrubby versions of various heights, with many varieties of leaf form and pattern and a diversity of flower colour. They don't need lots of water and they grow well in shade. The shrubby and cane forms flower from November through to the end of autumn and are fabulous plants for a trouble-free border. The rhizomatous groundcover types flower in spring and provide a tapestry of leaves for the rest of the year.
I have never written about the more frost-tender types, such as the tuberous or rex Begonia, as I considered them unsuitable for our region as they usually can't survive outside over winter: they are generally used as indoor plants. However, a few months ago my husband brought home six potted rex Begonia that had been used to adorn the tables at some big golfing function dinner. Rex Begonia - more properly called Begonia Rex-cultorum Group - are rhizomatous in habit and are hybrids developed from crossing the species Begonia rex with rhizomatous Begonia with distinctive foliage. The allure of these plants is their stunning foliage, with colours rarely found in other plants, such as pinks, red, silver, mauve, purple and black, and interesting spots and stripes. Many have a lovely metallic lustre and an interesting texture. I decided to plant these out in some shaded spots in my garden just to see how they would go - and I have been enjoying them ever since. I matched an element of the leaf colouration of each one to a surrounding plant, and was delighted with the results.
One of the rexes was silver with very dark purple markings, so it was placed nearby the sultry leaves of Colocasia 'Black Magic', and every time I walk past that combination, I feel smugly pleased. The next one was silver and pink, so I popped it nearby a plant grouping that consisted of pink Plectranthus ecklonii, some shock-headed pink Aechmea fasciata, pink Justicia carnea and the dainty pink Justicia brasiliana. Again, the echo of the leaf colour with the hue of the flowers just seems to lift the composition to a better level, and I can't imagine any other plant that could have provided just the right pink colour.
Another pink rex, with silver speckles, was placed near a lovely pink-flowered variety of Salvia splendens that I have been enjoying this autumn. It is a tall, perennial plant of the same type as the red bonfire sage, and has such a pretty tone of pink. It flowers in sun and semi-shade. Nearby I have the lovely shrubby Begonia minor, with its gorgeous pink and white flowers, pink Plectranthus 'Coral Cloud' and silvery Plectranthus argentatus. A fourth Rex had deep reddish markings on its dark green leaves, so I planted it underneath a self-sown crimson Amaranthus caudatus - a statuesque plant that flowers from November until May, and I enjoyed that pairing as well.
The final two rex specimens went to my mother's unit, where they have remained in pots in a well-lit position indoors, and are still looking very perky, paired with a nearby pink Cyclamen. I am expecting that once really cold weather sets in, that my rex plants will start to turn up their toes, but I am going to see how long they last. But I am already planning to get some more next spring to enliven my garden and give me months of enjoyment through the warmer months, and I am sorry I was ever disparaging of these cheerful little plants. Gardeners in colder climates often use ephemeral plants to boost their summer borders - there is no reason why we can't do the same!
The charm of vintage gardening books
28 Feb 21
A trip back in time
21 Feb 21
Cane-stemmed Begonia cultivars are summer stars for foliage and flower power in Sydney gardens.
14 Feb 21
There are some unusual flowers on my grasses now.
07 Feb 21
These plants bloom for many months in my garden - and some are in flower all year!
31 Jan 21
Many scented flowers are in bloom now.