Sunday, March 14, 2010

Winter boarder: begonia grandis

Winter boarder: Begonia grandis bulbils sprouting from a pot of dieffenbachia that I kept outside all summer and fall and overwintered in the laundry room. I'm always astonished at the capacity of this plant to propagate from the tiniest, most negligible-looking bulbil: some are smaller than a BB; some grow to maybe pea-sized. And all of them--all of them, if given half a chance (tossed nonchalantly into this pot, for example, not planted with any purpose or worry about light or water), will grow.

What you don't see here is the gorgeous deep pink of the leaves' underside, a large part of what makes them so beautiful all summer and fall in the garden: the afternoon light through the leaves is spectacular. The plants don't blossom until late in the year, and though the flowers are worth the wait--deep pink, cascading from multibranched stems--it's the leaves that make this hardy begonia a standout in the shade beneath our crabapple tree, in the shade beneath the pines, in the narrow alley between our house and the neighbors' where there is literally only a two-inch-wide space to dig in between our flagstone and their sidewalk. It also performs well in full sun, as long as its base is well-mulched.

These tiny plants are up early: they're the last to arise in the outdoor garden, later even than the notoriously is-it-still-there-or-not balloon flowers. When this small, they're easy to tease out of the soil and pot up in their own containers, though lately I've come to play more with companion planting: christmas cactus cuttings interplanted with an ornamental pepper; spider plants in the same pot with the bushy poinsettia that I've kept going for three years now; and (later, once it's safe to garden outside again) heartsease and oregano in the giant pots we use for growing tomatoes.

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