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Begonias on trial – the report’s out

Begoniafireworks Over the  next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting news of the results of four trials held at the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens at Wisley in Surrey. I was involved in judging them all.

These trials have universal value, they’re not just useful in Britain. For as well as assessing the very best varieties, which are awarded the prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM), problems of identification are resolved, pest and disease problems analyzed, cultural techniques investigated, and accurate and detailed descriptions published of all the award winners. All this is of value all over the world.

There are over 500 different varieties of Begonia rex grown. [The correct name is actually Begonia Rex Cultorum Group – all are hybrids between Begonia rex and other species.] These would have filled far too much greenhouse space so the Society’s experts selected what they considered the best 87 and these were assessed as foliage pot plants for the home, greenhouse and conservatory. Twenty five achieved award standard. The qualities we assessed most closely were: habit; leaf shape, color, markings and arrangement; length of good display; health; tolerance of a dry atmosphere. For an illustrated list of winners click here.

Begoniaescargot_1 Many, like ‘Fireworks’ were simply spectacular. Others, like the visitors’ favorite ‘Escargot’, were both colorful and featured an intriguing spiral leaf shape. And the range of colors and color combinations on show was impressive.

The best featured attractive foliage generously and evenly produced in a rounded habit with the lower leaves overlapping top of the pot. However, for me, the main factors which caused plants to be marked down were sparse leaf production which reduced their impact and growth habit which was too upright causing the foliage to be gathered at the top.Judgingbegoniarex

The trial proved very popular amongst visitors – who were also asked to vote for their favorites. All but one of the visitors’ Top Ten were also awarded the AGM. ‘Escargot’ was the visitor’s top choice followed by ‘Fireworks’ and China Curl’.

In our warm and humid summer climate in Pennsylvania these make excellent summer container plants. I tried one, 'Benitochiba', last summer but found it rather slow growing. I’ll be trying ‘Fireworks’ this season. (Both are available to growers from TerraNova Nurseries.) For there’s no doubt: there are no foliage plants which are quite so spectacular.

  • A report on the trial is available for free download here.
  • An excellent high resolution sixteen page full color bulletin on the trial, with more detail, more pictures, illustrated descriptions of the award winners and many other varieties, plus the list of the visitor’s Top Ten, is available for free download here.
  • A list of other bulletins on Recent RHS trials available for free download can be found here.
  • You can search for details of other RHS trials, past and present, here.
  • In the trials judging picture, some of the judges: Tony Lord (behind the plant!), myself holding the plant, Chris Sanders, Diana Hart Dyke, Pam Schwerdt.

Gardeners and horticulturalists, both amateur and professional, should be grateful to The Royal Horticultural Society for both undertaking their extensive program of trials, and for making the results so freely available to all.


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