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Gardening - balconies, beds and begonias

Aspect and exposure – these are two critical matters to be considered whenever and wherever we make a new planting. I have been a devoted collector of begonias for many years. They are particularly suited to the leafy conditions in my Artarmon garden and to someone addicted to pots and hanging baskets.

So it was with real pleasure when I heard the voice over the phone say: “I find begonias do well – they’re the best.” This friend lives at the top of one of our taller Artarmon apartment blocks and is gardening on one of those balconies that are notoriously difficult. It faces north but has only small protection from the wind. It is not only the wind with which he has to contend. Birds, too, can be a problem. He has put small stones on top of the soil in his pots to help protect it but is surprised to see just how big a stone a bird will steal.

Tenants on the lower floors also have trouble with pigeons. The hardy Begonia semperflorens, often used for border planting in public gardens, flowers well for him. He has planted a mixture of the green and brown leaved varieties in a long self-watering tub. Being low growing and semi succulent they avoid the devastation caused by wind and, moreover, flower over a long period in shades of pink and red.

Begonias are not the only plants growing successfully in this difficult position. There is a hardy Jade plant, several succulents with interesting leaf structures, grey and red-edged green ones. Several Dipladenias are in flower and, his pride and joy, a dwarf Meyer lemon tree standing in what limited protection is available, fruiting again for the second year. The lemon tree is grafted onto dwarfing root stock but the fruit remains the normal size.

On an upper deck where they are protected by a solid metal balcony wall but apparently still getting enough sun, this man has a collection of a dozen or so robust cymbidium orchids of which any home gardener would be proud.

Another friend has moved to an apartment down near the coast where she has a small square-shaped balcony facing east but protected from the damaging sea breezes by a waist-high solid balcony wall. I was amazed to see in that environment a piece of a Rex Begonia I had given her, a plant I have been growing in a carefully sheltered environment, was absolutely thriving, was taller and had better colour. It was yet another lesson in “experiment, watch how your plants respond to the circumstances in which you’ve planted them”. Every garden is different.

At last count I had 18 different kinds of Begonias in my collection. In addition to the semperflorens (fibrous), the garden textbooks record a variety of Begonias – cane-like, shrub-like, thick-stemmed, rhizomatous, trailing-scandent, Rex and tuberous begonias and, a recent hybrid between the tuberous and the fibrous, the Elatior Begonia.

This plant, unlike the tuberous, grows well in Sydney. This year, over a mild summer, mine flowered from October until now, in mid April, when it has just dropped its last flowers. Given the diverse, semi-succulent nature of Begonias there is something for most gardens and balconies in our area.

by Mollie Shelley

Courtesy of Gazette May 2012
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Cartoon: Wendy Bishop





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