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Graham Rice on Trials

Updates on trials and awards from the Royal Horticultural Society by Graham Rice

Brilliant begonia

Posted by Graham Rice on 07 Jul 2009 at 11:10 PM

Been a busy week... I've been covering all the new plants on show at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show over on my RHS New Plants blog. But today, after three early hours dodging the showers at the Show, I headed off to Wisley to dodge the torrential showers rather less successfully judging some of the flower trials.

Begonia 'Bonfire'. Image: GardenPhotos.comA dozen judges plus our cheerful and efficient secretary, with umbrellas and raincoats in varying states of efficiency, spent the day looking at kniphofias, begonias for containers, amaranthus, alstroemerias, cortaderias, and Triphylla fuchsias. You can tell from that range of plants that there's some exceptional plantspeople on the committee. And there was one plant that stood out from the hundreds we looked at - and amongst the kniphofias and the cortaderias in particular there were some real stars.

But one hanging basket of Begonia ‘Bonfire' was absolutely stunning.

There are two main types amongst these begonias for containers: there are the familiar big and blowsy double flowered types - and in recent years these have been joined by a new range of more elegant varieties derived from B. boliviensis and ‘Bonfire' looks to be the best of these.

Begonia 'Bonfire'. Image: GardenPhotos.comDiscovered back in 1864, in 1990 a plant hunting expedition to the cloud forests of Argentina by the New Zealand Institute for Crop & Food Research collected seeds of B. boliviensis. Back in New Zealand it took ten years to develop ‘Bonfire' from the seeds that were collected and since then the plant has been upgraded.

The stout, arching growth carries neatly serrated, rich green foliage and an prolific succession of pendulous single, four-petalled, fiery orange flowers from when you buy the plant till the first frost. My mum has had a plant in a terracotta pot on her patio in each of the last two years and they've been stupendous. What's more, trials judge Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers reported that he'd found it hardy in Worcestershire! - as long as its tubers are deep enough in the soil.

All the plants in the trial are grown in both large pots and in hanging baskets but the basket in the picture was presented as an extra demonstration. Paul Hansord of Thompson & Morgan, who's one of the judges and the country's leading authority on patio plants, recommended growing some of the plants in the trial in baskets planted not only in the top but also in sides and in the base of the basket. The basket of ‘Bonfire' was grown in this way.

It was out in the full ferocity of the sun in last week's heat wave and was then battered by recent thunderstorms - and it still looked fantastic. If Begonia ‘Bonfire' doesn't get an Award of Garden Merit at the end of the trail I'll... What will I do? Errr.... I'll eat this laptop!

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