Perfect shade-dwellers

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Display garden of Begonia at the nursery of Ross and Christine Bolwell at Annangrove, NSW

I know that I do tend to go on quite a bit about Begonia, but that is because they are one of the perfect plants for Sydney gardens - especially shaded ones. Last week I had the pleasure of visiting a nursery that is devoted to these wonderful plants. The nursery, at Annangrove, NSW, is run by Ross and Christine Bolwell, and they have been growing and championing Begonia for many years. Ross has bred many gorgeous cultivars, and the nursery contains several interesting display gardens where it is possible to see the amazing diversity of Begonia plants, which range from tall shrubs (including the large 'thick-stemmed' type, which I had not heard of before) to wonderfully floriferous cane and shrubby ones, as well as rhizomatous groundcovers and annuals. As well as beautiful waxy flowers, they generally have interesting - or outright fabulous - foliage, in terms of shape, colour and texture.

Rhizomatous Begonia at the nursery

I also learned during my visit that most Begonia will recover from minus four-degree Celsius frosts, as experienced at the nursery in previous winters. The foliage may be very burnt, but if this is left until September before pruning, the plant will start to shoot from the base at that time. The reason for leaving the dead foliage on the plant is to prevent further frost damage during the winter, as it acts as protection for the base of the plant. I also heard from Ross that my rex Begonia that I have enjoyed in the garden this year, will probably get through the winter OK, even though they may look a bit sad at this time - confirming the feedback I have received from some igarden readers on this topic.

Rhizomatous Begonia at the nursery

After hearing all about Begonia from Ross, my friends and I were let loose in the large shade houses that comprise the nursery, and like kids in a lolly shop, we eagerly scooped up numerous pots to buy. As my garden is rather 'full' of shrubs at the moment, I steered towards the lower-growing rhizomatous Begonia (even though I do have quite a few of these already!) and found it very hard to decide amongst all the tempting ones on offer. There were silver ones, near-black ones, lime-green ones, autumn-coloured ones, ones with spiral-shaped leaves, ones with dramatic markings ... what to choose?! In the end, I picked out an interesting upright-foliage silvery one, a stunning orange-leaved one (which I thought would look good planted nearby autumn-colouring leaves), a velvety black one for my black-and-white garden and an amazing lime-leaved one with foliage resembling a snail's shell.

Rhizomatous Begonia growing with ferns at the nursery

These rhizomatous Begonia are ideal groundcovers for shaded spots in Sydney gardens, as they will gently spread to form clumps, and if different ones are planted together, they can make a superb patchwork tapestry of varying colours, shapes and textures, as shown in the display gardens at the nursery. One of these garden also included some ferns, which are ideal companions for these Begonia. They make very good underplantings for shade-loving shrubs such as Camellia, Justicia carnea and Plectranthus, as well as their taller cousins, the cane and shrub Begonia. They are also excellent when grown in pots or hanging baskets; in my parents' old garden, they were grouped in quirky pots on a shaded set of old stone steps leading up to the front door, where they grew for many years.

In future years, Ross hopes to expand his collection to include other shade-loving plants suited to Sydney gardens. The nursery can be visited if you make an appointment: phone (02) 9679 1386.