Friday, September 30, 2011

A long search comes to an end

Back  in 1984 I wrote an article and sold it to the UK gardening magazine Amateur Gardening.  It wasn't my first published piece of work - but it was my first paid for piece.  I subsequently sold many articles to AG and other gardening magazines - but you never forget your first sale.  It was about a cane stemmed begonia, Begonia 'Lucerne' (AKA "Coralline de Lucerne", "Lucerna").  I'd had it as a houseplant for many years (and moves) since acquiring a cutting from one of my old schools (I was a science teacher back in those days). 

Alas, I lost the plant about 1990, and, despite constant plant hunting, never found it again.  It seemed to be one of those begonias that were passed around from friend to friend rather than being stocked by nurseries and garden centres.  That was, until Wednesday this week.  I was working in Padstow and made a small detour on my journey back to drop into the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery near Lostwithiel in Cornwall.  This is one of my local favourites, with an excellent selection of interesting plants so, whenever I'm in the area, I try and get in a visit.  It's just been revamped and one of the new features is a larger display greenhouse for the more tender stuff.  Right at the front entrance was a specimen of my long sought plant.  Inside were a few more.  How could I resist.  So Begonia 'Lucerne' has rejoined the household plant collection.

Begonia 'Lucerne'
It's too tender for winters outside in the UK but, going by my experience from all those years ago, will be quite happy in a semi shaded spot al fresco during the warmer months.  Even overwintering doesn't need a lot of heat.  It seemed to tolerate as low as 5C - though it prefers higher.  No problem, it can come into the house for the winter and then be acclimatised to outdoor living in my little shade house in mid spring.

So, what's so attractive about it?  Well, unlike many begonias, this one is a giant.  Each stem can hit 8ft / 250 cm in height, clothed with large, attractively silver spotted leaves with red undersides, and, at intervals, throwing out a densely clustered spray of red flowers.  New stems are produced from the base - albeit with no great freedom - or by the occasional branching higher up the stem and, over time, a very attractive multi stemmed plant can ensue.  To me it has an air of elegance about it that sets it apart from many other begonias.

I can understand why it's not more widespread in cultivation.  The tall cane-like stems are quite brittle and it doesn't produce much cutting material - though stem tip cuttings root easily enough.  My newly purchased plant has three stems, two from basal stems (or, more likely, two cuttings in the same pot) and a low branch.  That produces a fairly full effect but I'll hopefully end up with some additional stems to bulk it out a little further.  And, next summer, it can bring height and interest to a little corner of my garden to add to the sub tropical feel.

It's been a long time away.  Welcome back, Lucerne.

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