Begonias, evil marketeers and why I don’t grow bananas


begonia 3

Ok you may say, that (the banana part) is easily answered “you live in Switzerland”. You would say this to me kindly, gently even.  I would be forced to agree, and then I’d point out that, if you really want something very badly, you can achieve it (I think the banana example shows that this isn’t necessarily true (absent a green-house), but it’s not the topic of this post – and neither are bananas. This post is about planting what works and thwarted passions..

This post is for anyone who has ever been passionate about something. Personally, I fear people without passion.  Plants, animals, football stickers, teddy-bears, oddly shaped pebbles, love-letters, valentine cards, base-ball caps or even signed first editions (a little pricey, that one, as a love). Most of us have something we care about, even if nobody else really understands the fascination. Personally I am (with the exception of sports memorabilia – you can keep your football cards) very broad  in my enthusiasms. A non-exhaustive list of passions:

  • Plants:  the more wrong they are for my climate the more I love them. To illustrate, an example, which would go well with the body pain motto of my favourite tattoo parlour: on a trip to Morocco, in my teens, I carried a cactus onto the plane under my T-shirt.  On a trip to Dubai I spent a lot of time looking for seeds for a plant, which is a part of Iranian Sabzi, which you can get in LA and in Dubai, whose name nobody can tell me. I have tried to get seeds from Iran (but nobody wanted to send me anything as they were worried about customs) and in Dubai (not possible they only had the herb without roots) and even in Grenada…I am not alone with this passion though, recently in italy, I met a man who, although his climate is perfect for most plants I want to grow, has this odd desire to plant bananas (he did, they grew to a tiny size..)
  • Animals: dogs, horses, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, cats, fish, frog-spawn, I drove my parents mad, many years ago. Nowadays I will jump out the car to hurry a hedgehog across the road. Or do snail rescue: I recently got some plants at a garden center in Italy, there were two snails on them, big snails. I left them in the car overnight, nowhere good near the hotel to set them free. Then the next day I took the first snail, walked through the village until I found a garden with yummy plants in it and set it free.  The second snail I freed in an exotic plant garden, after ascertaining that there were snails there already, and thus enough for it to eat. As it was all cacti and succulents, the snail won’t do massive damage. If you think this is odd, please note, I cannot help it I grew up in England.
  • Foods: Argan and olive oils (a recent trip to the super-market in Italy confronted me with a whole shelf of extra virgin oils, bottles from so many different regions: Umbria, Toscana, Sicily, Sardinia, Liguria, Apulia – you know that song Mambo Number 5, if it were about oils not women, it would be my song. I am proud to say, I only bought 2 bottles, I think I did well., The list continues with exotic spices and herbs (think Mauby Bark from Grenada, limu omani, advieh or Tonka beans (which, nowadays, are not so strange anymore), non-run-of the mill drinks like violet and pistachio liqueurs, and fun stuff like freekeh and Mulukhiyah.
  • Beautiful articles like bowls, silverware etc.
  • Cookbooks: from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe – if there is a cookbook, it’s very possible I have it on my shelf…
  • Recipes: I badger little old ladies for their recipes..and chefs in restaurants (a recipe for ginger liqueur I got in Italy will be coming up soon..)

Anyhow, the thwarted passion that led to this post is named begonia.  The begonia is a recent love, see how I learned to love begonias). My  balconies are rather shady and now I have accepted that I cannot plant tropical stuff I accept that I must love what works (apart from chili plants I still grow those).

So I grow hydrangeas (another recent love), and forget me nots, azaleas and daffodils, I gave up on damascus roses but have two hardy “regular” roses. I have fuchsias (didn’t like them either) and Lamprocapnos (don’t you love that name?) and then, of course, there is the begonia. They are generous plants, they blossom for months on end, profusely, and their blossoms are reminiscent of the coveted but ultimately impractical hibiscus.  I have grown begonias for the past years and started seeking them out. The Swiss taste in begonias runs to begonia semperflorens, a fiddly dwarf flowering plant in the varieties you can get here. In contrast, English taste in begonias is, like my passions, all-encompassing, which means, you can find a very large variety, if somebody is willing to ship them to you and sell them. To my frustration I have discovered that in general online ordering is a hit and miss affair, half the tubers arrived mouldy, which won’t do at all. And then after some research on the RHS website I discovered Blackmore and Langdon, and nobody, I repeat nobody, stocks more begonias that I covet than Blackmore and Landgon. But also, I cannot get my hands on their stock.

For the past 3 years I have visited their website – in Spring and Autumn, in Summer and Winter. I scroll through the flowers, I think to myself, 25 GBP for a single tuber is a bit steep, but oh, that blossom, I click on the bloom and, invariably, regardless of the season, I find the same sentence in red “SOLD OUT FOR THIS SEASON”. This has been going on for three years now. I even wrote to the company and asked them when exactly I was meant to order seeing as they are always sold out for the season. I don’t recall having received an answer, after all, I am only a potential client on the far-off continent. However, today, to add insult to injury I received a marketing news-mail. Proclaiming: Special sales event – visit us in London in May – begonias, etc etc on sale. Excited I clicked the links in the newsletter, clicked on the blossoms and, to my frustration,  was once again met with that single red line:  “SOLD OUT FOR THIS SEASON”.... I guess it’s just not meant to be. 


30 thoughts on “Begonias, evil marketeers and why I don’t grow bananas

  1. You’ve made me smile…today I have been organising my precious spice larders plus a couple of other food cupboards. And I’ve loved every second!! My spices make me so happy 😀😀

    • Hello my dear, how lovely to hear from you, glad I made you smile, you organised your spice cupboards, which reminds me I must make your breakfast porridge asap, now I am back in Switzerland with everything at my disposal. I wish I had my spice cupboards organised, half the time I know I have a spice, saffron fronds, black cardamom, home-made advieh, wild thyme, various smoked chilli powders, but I have so many spices and herbs that mostly I cannot find the one I am looking for (my kitchen is about a 1/5 the size of your lovely remodeled one you see!)

  2. So much to get passionate about in this crazy world of ours dear Poli! Hope you manage to get your hands on some beautiful begonias soon… oh and I love the fact that you badger (I’m sure in a nice way…) little old ladies for their recipes! 🙂

    • Oh I badger in a very charming way, one of the bright aspects of my life is that something about me inspires strangers to smile at me totally randomly (not typical for the area where I live) which is uplifting (and helps with the badgering – I accosted a little old lady in a pub in Ireland (she was sitting I was walking past and suddenly I thought, she must have an Irish brown bread recipe)! And she did ( I was planning to send her a postcard to thank her, little old ladies lead such lonely lives sometimes) but I mislaid the address and the recipe…bad me

  3. I lurch from one “enthusiasm” to another (currently a little obsessed with jelly printing). I can’t share your enthusiasm for growing plants in the wrong climate because I have difficulty enough growing those that are in the right climate, though I can fully understand your enthusiasm. Why not order the begonias in December, ahead of the rush?

    • Hello Anne – lovely to hear from you, I remember you had a wool dyeing phase for a while – with natural colours, and now it’s jelly printing, you are very creative. You live on a farm don’t you, I am sure you don’t need to worry about planting anything yourself. Ah the begonias, honestly I think I have check that website so many times and never found anything for sale (maybe it’s a front for some other clandestine operation) – however, I do remember that you could once order for Xmas presents (tells you a lot about the English that they give tuberous begonia tubers as presents..) so maybe I need to phone them up and place an order for next availability or something. Ideas, Ideas!

  4. And in complete contrast, I am trying to nudge our garden to be completely indigenous, thus relieving me of the burden ( and expense) of watering out of season .. . or any season for that matter – and all the other non-Johannesburg garden chores one is forced to do if one wants foreign species.
    I am passionate about having an easy time dans le jardin which will give me more time to be passionate about other things rather than weeding etc.Such as watching football and not feeling guilty about not mowing the lawn; another feature that would be seriously curtailed if i had my way.
    However, I am also quite passionate about the wife and she loves all those foreign plants and a large expanse of perishing lawn so woe is moi if she discovers me uprooting – ”oops, the spade slipped, sweetheart ….honest”.

    We have a single Begonia Rex in a pot and, believe it or not, we actually do have a real live actual banana plant in the garden… actually. We have no clue how it arrived – but more than likely from a seed via a migrating bird’s bottom. Every year or so it produces several bunches of tiny bananas then later, gets nailed by the Highveld Frost , goes black and wilts.
    As it never gets much attention I would feel like a bit like Dick Dastardly if I ever dug it up.
    So it stays, in the hope that one day it may produce a banana big enough for a sundae.

    • Hello there – you made me laugh – a seed from a migrating birds bottom, a banana plant, and I love the “+oops the spade slipped honest sweetheart” – I remember a black morning many years ago when a guest at my parents home, who, twigging that my dad doesn’t like to mow the lawn, decided to be a good guest and got the lawnmower out. He ran over a flower bed – and destroyed a blossoming coreopsis or some other plant, whose name I cannot remember, but which I can still see vividly in my minds eye (wasn’t exactly a coreopsis) but a plant I grew from seed and had coddled for about 4 years. Cut it off at the root. Big cheerful bear of a man, couldn’t understand why I was livid. After all the lawn was mowed right? Good luck with the banana and the sundae, maybe even a pina colada with your football. I do think that you would be Dick Dastardly if you dig the poor thing up after ignoring it for years…

  5. So when oh when do we get to see a photo of your garden? I have a lonely hydrangea I love (I’ve managed to kill a few others) — I’m imagining yours gorgeous with all that Swiss rain and snow!

    • Aha – my poor plants are all sat in pots on my balcony, oh woe is me, to quote Areknaten, however, yes they do do pretty well, I must share some photographs! Happy Wednesday Poli

      • Hey Poli– nope, usually I’m loaded down with books or graded papers, my lunch, school supplies… But we do walk to church, it’s 5 minutes the other direction. And you’re right, my Larry has a 45 minutes commute! take care…

      • Hey Rhonda I was teasing you, 45 minutes is not too bad either by most standards I guess, in Switzerland anything beyond an hour would be considered almost unacceptable, I have an Australian friend who was hiring for a senior leadership position and she got very annoyed that people didnt take the job because of the commute….it’s always relative isn’t it!

  6. I simply could not resist the title of this post. Brilliant! Yeah, you’ve pegged the evil marketeers. It’s like sales for flights — “Sydney – London only $700!!” so you check it out, and it’s one flight in one month at an ungodly hour on a dodgy airline with five connections and takes 3 days. 😦

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