Book Bullet: Urban Trees by Steve Cox
New begonias - flowering varieties

New begonias - foliage varieties

Begonia Garden Angel Series. Images ©TerraNova NurseriesThere are about nine hundred species of begonias, so it’s hardly surprising that they’re so important to gardeners. And on both sides of the Atlantic new begonias are arriving fast. In the States, it’s mainly foliage types to grow outside in containers, or even as hardy perennials; in Britain it’s flowering varieties for containers, many with blood from B. boliviensis, that are making an impact.

I think that each country should grow more of what the other is already growing. So, today, I’m going to have a quick look at the new foliage types and next time I’ll feature the new flowering types.

So new styles of foliage begonias for use in patio pots and the open garden have been pouring out of Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon, the world’s leading developer of new perennials. [Terra Nova don’t do retail, ever, so please don’t ask.]

Terra Nova started by identifying a few existing foliage begonias and bringing them to a wider audience. The first was ‘Bentichoba’, a hybrid from Japan originally introduced in 1973, with silver and green leaves, tinted pink when young. This is actually turning out to be unexpectedly tough and is reckoned to be hardy outside in most of Britain (zone 8), dying down in the autumn like other perennials.

They began breeding their own and the interspecific hybrid ‘Metallic Mist’ was their first, with bold dark-veined silvery leaves. It’s thought to be even hardier than ‘Bentichoba’.

Then last year they launched a host of new foliage begonias which will be getting around North America this year and in Britain in a year or two. There are four series: the Garden Angel Series, Shade Angel Series, T Rex Series and the Cool Breeze Series.

The three in the Garden Angel Series (above, click to enlarge) are said to be hardy down to zone 7 (-18C/0F) and look as if they’re derived from ‘Bentichoba’. They’re big, making plants 2ft/60cm high and wide with large maple-like leaves in various combinations of silver, green tones, pink and purple. So, they should make dramatic hardy perennials in many areas.

The first in the Shade Angel Series, ‘Aurora’, is described as having “iridescent foliage in aquamarine, lavender, raspberry pink and cream overlaid with mother-of-pearl”. It’s quite something and would be excellent as a container specimen. Their T Rex series includes three more compact varieties in vivid colors and patterns that are again designed for summer containers outside.
Begonia Cool Breeze Series. Images ©TerraNova Nurseries
Finally, there’s the Cool Breeze Series (above, click to enlarge) in four foliage colors, including the silver leaved ‘Cool Breeze Rouge’ that develops pink tints in summer a little like a Caladium. These are for summer containers and will keep going well into autumn, not being damaged till the temperature is down to 38F/3C.

But I must also mention a seed-raised foliage begonia for summer containers that’s nothing to do with Begonia 'Gryphon' Image ©ProvenWinners.comTerra Nova.

Launched in 2011, ‘Gryphon’ (right, click to enlarge) makes a plant about 16in/40cm high and wide covered in large, jagged, dark glossy green leaves patterned in silver. Superb.

All these begonias should be available this season in North America. ‘Bentichoba’, ‘Metallic Mist’ and ‘Gryphon’ are already available in Britain, these startling newcomers from TerraNova should follow soon.

For more detail on all Terra Nova’s begonias, past and present, take a look at the begonia page on their website.

Comments

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Graham Spencer

There's a lot of talk of hardiness about these, but from what I have seen, they struggle with the northern European winters - wet, not especially cold - but wet, with more wet added. Those that produce rhizomes simply can't cope - the tuberous and fibrous varieties are tougher. I have a breeder client working on varieties that really are hardy in the UK, although there seems to be a compromise to be made between brightness of leaf colour and hardiness.

Graham Rice

Yes, constantly wet soil is so often more of a problem than cold. As with so may of the colourful hybrid echinaceas, good drainage is more important to winter survival than anything else. But even if hardiness is a little doubtful, these begonias make spectacular summer foliage plants for large containers.

I look forward to the results of the development work you mention.

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