Every so often, growers herald a new begonia.
Sometimes it comes from a distant land, but it is often a hybrid introduced by specialists.
Few of us realize how much work and meticulous care is involved in its production.
New Hampshire Hybrids “Semperflorens Begonias”
Many begonia growers have heard of Professor W. D. Holley’s work with the double semperflorens begonias, which he named the New Hampshire hybrids in honor of the University of New Hampshire where these hybrids were produced.
Professor Holley devoted much time to crossing the double semperflorens begonia on the dark-leaved Carmen type, and after long and careful selective breeding, many new and interesting varieties resulted.
Thimble Hybrid Begonias
For some time, I have carried on this work. The Thimble Hybrid begonias Curly Locks and Thimbleberry are two plants that have been produced after a long period of selection and crossing.
Growing the Thimble Hybrid begonias from tiny seeds to thrifty plants in 5-inch pots may seem almost a wizard’s accomplishment.
Proper Germinating Method
Trial and error in germinating the seed have brought about a new method of soil preparation.
Here is a little secret that simplifies matters.
Almost everyone can obtain a brick and a shallow pan, which is part of the equipment.
But the secret is pulverized applewood and ant castings found in hollow stumps of apple trees. This should be mixed with equal parts of finely sifted sand.
Place a thin layer of this mixture on the wide side of a brick and set the brick in a pan of water. Never allow the pan to become dry.
The first two weeks are the most important. Water may be allowed to reach halfway up the brick at the outset.
As the seedlings appear, lower the level somewhat, but keep the brick moist at all times.
Prime requisites are high temperatures from 60° to 90° degrees Fahrenheit, and no direct sunlight, especially during the early stages of germination.
The best time of year to start seed in December. It takes about 10 days to germinate.
Some choice hybrids do not “wake up” as soon as the single types, and often, seeds will still be germinating after 3 weeks.
Feeding is not necessary, for applewood is the perfect food. We have over 60 half bricks of our latest crosses of the Thimble Hybrids.
For long anxious months, we will watch these new seedlings’ fascinating, slow growth.
When they are from 4 to 6 weeks old, the tiny clumps will be lifted and planted in small pots of specially prepared soil composed of 1 part sifted sand or well-leached, soft coal ashes, 2 parts sifted garden soil, and 1 part well-decayed cow manure—all mixed thoroughly.
We fill the level of the pot full, then make small depressions and slip tiny clumps of seedlings into them with a pen knife.
We water these immediately with a fine syringe.
The soil around the seedlings is not pressed down, but we allow the water to settle the surrounding soil. Therefore, they must be kept quite moist when they are small.
As the little plants become large enough to handle, we separate them carefully, setting each plant in a small, individual pot.
Begonia seedlings should never become potbound. Usually, the sign for shifting them to a larger pot is when tiny white rootlets grow through the drainage hole at the pot’s base.
When repotting, the plants should always be moist, for if they are dry the small roots will cling to the sides of the clay pot.
The soil mixture for well-established thrifty plants should be enriched with bonemeal at one teaspoon to a 4-inch pot.
You can increase the cow manure by 1 part to that suggested for seedlings and add a little charcoal.
Variations Of Thimble Hybrids
Many variations have been produced among the Thimble Hybrids. The flowers have protruding centers shaped like a raspberry or a thimble.
Of the many we have developed, we have selected 2 outstanding types.
The first we have is named Curly Locks. When the blossom clusters appear, you see many bright sulphur yellow flowers, hanging like thimbles, with a bracket of pink upper petals.
The bud cluster above has no hint of yellow, for as the pink petals open, the center is a lovely pale green.
As the flower matures, this becomes yellow. The color changes as the season advance.
During the short winter days, the maturing flowers lose part of the sulphur yellow, showing burnt orange and delicate pink instead.
With the dark red leaves for contrast, the effect is exquisite.
The second plant is named Thimble-berry. This has handsome, glossy dark foliage and is of dwarf habit.
Flowers hang in rich clusters resembling luscious red fruit, ripe and ready to eat. The color changes from deep red to tight red as the seasons change.
The fascinating thing about these flowers is the presence of numerous miniature red florets at the end of the thimble.
This new strain does not differ radically from begonia’s common wax leaf type.
However, the growth does need pinching to keep it in control. Although I know it will improve the plant, it hurts me to nip or destroy its top growth.
To conquer this, I put my fingers on the central shoot to be plucked, shut my eyes and then snip.
This is the way to make the plant a well-branched, bushy specimen. Plants should be pinched when they are about 5” inches tall.
It has been the custom to keep the wax-leaf begonia away from strong sunlight.
Happily, this new dark-leaved variety delights in full sun. South windows will be ideal for the best growth and full beauty.
It will also make a charming addition to the garden walk in full sun during the summer months.