Begonias – More than houseplants

By Dr. Bill Barrick, Executive Director

Over the past few summers we have been using Cane or Angel Wing Begonias in our displays, either planted directly into the ground beds or used as hanging baskets. The term “angel wing” refers to their leaves being shaped like angels’ wings. Angel Wing Begonias can reach heights of three feet or more and are a dramatic contrast to the typical bedding begonia available for sale in most retail outlets.

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Angel Wing Begonia

 

Growing “Mamma’s Begonias”

So many of our display beds are now in shade and begonias perform well in this type of lighting environment. Many of the references you will read state that many begonias can be grown in full sun, but my observation is by late July, the foliage looks brittle and takes on a bronze cast.

There are hundreds of varieties of Angel Wing Begonias and most are hybrids of several different species. There is no telling where we obtained many of our begonias, but we have two varieties, one pink and the other a coral-red, that we have been growing in our greenhouses for years.

The begonia that is my personal favorite is a silver-leaved variety with pink flowers referred to as “Mamma’s Begonias.”  My Mamma, who lives in Dothan, Ala., shared cuttings with me in 2012, and since that time we have propagated hundreds of plants from those original cuttings here at Bellingrath. In many catalogs, this variety is named ‘Frosty.’

Begonia 'Frosty,' also known to us as "Mamma's Begonias"

Begonia ‘Frosty,’ also known as “Mamma’s Begonias”

 

Summer Plantings

The summer planting along the Mermaid Fountain is planted with a pink Angel Wing Begonia and ‘Frosty’ – aka “Mamma’s Begonias” –  in combination with a bronze copper and a new bedding begonia, named, of all things, ‘BIG Green Leaf Pink.’ (I guess the breeders weren’t very creative when they got around to assigning a name for this series of begonias, as there is ‘BIG Green Leaf Red,’ ‘BIG Green Leaf Rose.’) Although we have not grown this variety, it does look like it is going to be a winner.

Last year we grew one of the “Surefire Series” – ‘Surefire Pink,’ which was a superior performer. In past summers, we have grown the ‘Dragon Wing’ series in both red and pink varieties and because of their superior performance they have achieved the “Proven Winner” status.

Begonia 'Frosty' with BIG Pink Green Leaf' at Bellingrath this May

Begonia ‘Frosty’ with BIG Pink Green Leaf’ at Bellingrath

 

Visit Bellingrath this May to catch all of the begonias – and many other early-summer plants – in full bloom throughout the Gardens.