Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Shield-leaved Begonia

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I keep the faith that there's a plant for every inch of my garden—even under a table.  This one is metal-framed and bluestone-topped; it's the sideboard on the terrace.  And it's big, 3 feet by 8 feet.  That's way too much space just for serving a buffet. 

 

Shield-leaf begonia, though, is completely at home in its shade.  In May, I set out three large pots of two plants each.  From the get-go, they look very pleased with their prospects.

 

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By August, they've carpeted the entire space...

 

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...and have started to explore up into the scrolls of the table-frame.

 

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If I were gardening in Ecuador instead of southern New Engand, the plants would build themselves up month after month, perhaps filling the the entire under-table volume in a year.  And in the few degrees of coolness that signify the "Winter" of high-elevation tropics, they'd pour forth their flowers, too:  Immense pendant heads of small white flowers, like those of some chic new species of hydrangea.

 

As a Summer-to-frost annual, though, the eager growth and exceptional foliage are the thing.  Who knew that even the shady space under a table could be so exciting?   

 

 

Here's how to grow this large and shade-loving begonia:

 

Latin Name

Begonia convolvulaceae

Common Name

Shield-leaf Begonia

Family

Begoniaceae, the Begonia family.

What kind of plant is it?

Tender perennial; exciting even as an annual.

Hardiness

Zones 10 - 11.

Habit

Scandent if it gets the opportunity to climb.  It sends out modest roots at the stem joints that can help it adhere to rough walls as well as wood. Gracefully and dramatically pendant if it gets the opportunity to fall.  Bouncy and deeply carpeting if the only option is as a groundcover.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in four months

Begonia convolvulaceae is only perennial in the mildest frost-free climates, where it's never too hot but there's also never even a whiff of frost.  Think Bogata, Columbia, or cool but frost-free pockets of coastal California.  There it can scramble far and wide as a groundcover, rooting as it grows, and can be two feet high without any support at all, and of indefinite spread.  As a mostly-shade annual everywhere, but especially with the kick-start of Summer swelter, as on the East Cost, even small plants can grow three or four feet in all directions by September.

Texture

The bright-green leaves are seriously shiny.  As they mature, each leaf's perimeter becomes reflexed back a bit, giving the leaf's rounded interior a forward projection that is, indeed, like a shield.  Growth is dense and solid and uniform, but thanks to this 3-D geometry, leaf after leaf after leaf, still very lively.

Grown for

the foliage: Shiny shield-shaped leaves have prominent depressed veins, and are so interesting that, for once, you can grow a "fancy" begonia that doesn't depend on a lot of color to catch your eye. 

 

its flowers: Large pendant heads of small white flowers with a loose and almost hydrangea-like look.  These develop only in specimens that can enjoy just a bit of coolness over the Winter in a greenhouse, or by growing outdoors (lucky dogs) in frost-free climates like those of the higher-elevation tropics: Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, say, or the mountainous regions of Central and South America.

 

its ease of growth: Quick, naturally branched, and full.

 

its enjoyment of shade: There are so many annuals for heat and full sun; here's one that's only at its best in heavily dappled shade—and that is not yet another impatiens.

Flowering season

Late Winter: February into March 

Culture

Dappled sun at the most; fairly heavy shade is also successful.  This is a plant that is happy even if it can only acknowledge that there's sun somewhere; sun doesn't have to hit the leaves directly.  Rich moist soil.

How to handle it

Unless you garden in a cool greenhouse in the Winter, or have a large but cool Winter window, grow shield-leaf as an annual.  Young plants are so eager that it's not worth trying to overwinter pots of it to set out the following May. 

 

As typical for begonias, shield-leaf doesn't tolerate even the possibility of frost, let alone the actuality.  Don't set out plants in Spring until there is, absolutely and positively, no danger of frost.  They grow fast, and because overall size is part of their drama, put them in pots that are much larger than you'd do for any "normal" begonia.  Annual begonias don't have deep roots, though, so pots that are wide and shallow are better.  

 

Shield-leaf begonia enjoys warmth and moisture, but will scorch with too much sun.  I move my pots deeper in the shade under the table as the plants get larger—which only inspires them to grow outward to the brighter light all the faster.  

 

If you have the space and the solid fixtures, planting a large (and, therefore, heavy) hanging basket with shield-leaf would create a sensationally-sized billowing and cascading display by August.  Next Summer, I'll try hanging a couple of baskets in the shade of my wisteria pergola.

 

The plants are maintenance-free as long as you water and fertilize regularly.  They branch all by themselves, and because the plants would only flower at the end of a frost-free Winter anyway, there are no Summer flowers to deadhead. 

Downsides

I can't think of a one.  Surprisingly, the succulent and profuse foliage isn't interesting to pests and diseases.

Variants

So far, there are no cultivars to this terrific Begonia species, but with 1,500 species of Begonia, let alone hundreds of hybrids, there are sure to be a half dozen suitable for almost any exposure and taste. 

 

There's wide diversity across all characteristics.  Begonias can be annuals as well as (nearly-always) tender perennials.  Ever-bloomers or just Winter bloomers, with flowers in as wide a range of color as that of roses: Everything but blue.  Foliage can be as small as that of a cotoneaster or as large as a pumpkin's, round, spiraling, or thin and spidery—and in almost any color and any patterns of colors from green, yellow, white, pink, metallic, to black-burgundy.  Habits range from mounding Summer bedders to man-high shrubby giants.  Native habitats are from the most humid year-round tropics to near-desert tropics, where many begonia species sport eccentrically-swollen woody bases, known as caudexes, that are yet another feature to delight the cognoscenti.  Even though only a handful of begonias tolerate even mild frost, a couple of species are surprisingly hardy into the Zone 6 of southern New England.  That's a long way from Bogata.

Availability

On-line and at destination retailers.

Propagation

This species Begonia can be propagated by seed as well as by cuttings.

Native habitat

Begonia convolvulaceae is native to Brazil.

 
 
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