I used to frown upon people who liked begonias… I also frowned upon geranium lovers, and florists whose vision of the height of sophistication was a bouquet with carnations with pink roses and baby’s breath in it. These flowers I felt were the last resort of those with no imagination, old fuddy-duddies who were stuck in the 80ies if not in a more ancient and benevolent time altogether. Of course Bernese grandmothers and all alp dwellers were given a dispensation – old wooden farmhouses in Switzerland just wouldn’t be the same without the geraniums and petunias on their balconies. Anyway, we all live and learn, and so in the past years gardening on my balcony has made me accept the following, three, very basic truths:
1) If plants like the sun and your balcony is shady, the sun-loving plants you put out there will punish you by not flourishing – nature generally wins – we don’t like to admit it, but it’s true. There was one exception to the rule but I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the plant
2) However much you might want to grow gingers in all their glory, and even if you get hardy gingers, anything that will barely survive a Swiss winter in the ground, will for certain die if planted in a container on your balcony…..(yes I tried after growing the gingers from seed with a heating mat that kept the seeds warm at 30°C) and if you take the plants inside and don’t have a conservatory, they won’t necessarily be happy either (think spider mites)…..
3) Plants that hail from the South such as lavenders will survive, but only if taken inside in winter, ditto rosemary (container planting issue and the ZONE again), pineapple sage……chilis – the list goes on……
So while I really truly wanted to shape the world around me to my green thumbed will and to accommodate my hankering for exotic, interesting and “exciting” plants, I had to accept that in order to have a happy, green balcony I had to bend to the conditions I was working with – this is when I discovered the humble and generous-natured begonia.
Last year I planted some, on a whim, not liking them, but thinking, may as well try and see. Like many things upon which we lavish no particular attention the plants grew, they flourished and they flowered for the whole summer, and all they wanted in return was water. Their fleshy stems didn’t appeal to me but the fact that they were flowering and bountiful did, as did their undemanding nature, and the fact that none of the pests that were munching on all the other plants so much as chewed on a begonia leaf.
I was a reluctant convert – so this year I planted more begonias and risked putting them in hanging baskets, I wasn’t sure whether this would work. I put moss around the base of the hanging basket. Not having the hanging kind I thought they might break off due to the stiffness of the stems, but true to type they are doing beautifully. Such flexible, adaptable plants. I am now surrounded by flowers in harmonious shades of red. Their colourful blossoms and large leaves frame the corner of the balcony where we enjoy our outdoor meals, making it a cozy intimate place and the mossy base of the basket makes it look as though the begonias are rooted in a moss covered rocky crevice. The energy and vigour with which the plants grow fills me with instant good cheer and wonder at the beauty of nature. The intricacy of the flowers, the softness and sheen of the petals, and the yellow contrasting stamens fascinate me, their generous proportions delight me and for some reason take me back to tropical island holidays. The begonias have now grown so far earthward that their tips kiss the scented geranium leaves reaching upwards to the sky: rose-, lemon- and mint scented, geraniums that do not really flower, but have large, velvety leaves and if you rub a leaf between your fingers they release a lovely scent. As I said we live and learn. I read a quote yesterday that sometimes you don’t get to where you want to be in life, but you get where you need to be. That resonated. So while I don’t have a tropical bountiful balcony I do have a wonderful zone- adapted, colourful space where I can rest and enjoy nature. And as I am confessing – I may as well own up to also having a large pot of carnations in that same corner!