September 2020: Begonia sutherlandii
I just love hardy Begonias. They come into growth late, which can be worrying at first, but once you expect it it’s really useful for covering over earlier things without interfering with them. In line with coming into growth late, they also look good until the frosts which make them fantastic in September. They often have interesting foliage and can (as in the one I’ve chosen here) have very good flowers.
There have been quite a lot of them introduced recently, but the one I’ve chosen for plant of the month is a real old favourite which has been known since Victorian times – Begonia sutherlandii. It was originally grown as a greenhouse subject (in fact it can become a bit of a weed in such situations), but I have grown it outside all year for at least 20 years here in the South Wales valleys. I bought it from the nursery at Great Dixter in the late 1980’s and they still sell it today.
I originally grew it in a pot, but it has a great propensity to produce small bulblets which can easily be propagated and find their way to the garden and to spread there in a quiet manner. In the hard winters of 2009-2011 my patch was severely reduced, but in the last 9 years it has steadily grown back to the size in the picture.
It is a short plant, about 1 – 1½ ft tall, which makes it an excellent front of border subject where its mildly spreading habit will fill around taller plants. It has pale appley green leaves, which set off the warm orange flowers really well. It starts flowering in July and generally carries on until the frosts, although the peak of flowering is in August and September. I find its colouring assorts very well with other late flowering plants such as Crocosmias and Solidagos, as you can see.
It was the Begonia which first set me off on collecting these plants, and it is still one of my favourites. I’m sure a lot of you will know and grow it, but if anyone wants to give it a try, I have no problems propagating it!