Thursday, July 5, 2012

Scarlet Begonias

Roseform Scarlet

“Once in a while you get shown the light; In the strangest of places if you look at it right.”
from  “Scarlet Begonias” by the San Francisco band The Grateful Dead.

Well, I’m no Grateful Dead fan, but I am a begonia grower and it’s true you get shown the light in the strangest places, stay with me and I’ll show you.

For 30 years I have been growing tuberous begonias, approximately three million per year.  Let’s see that makes, oh somewhere around 90,000,000 begonias. (no wonder I’m tired). 

Before that, I was sort of nomadic.  I left Michigan in 1968 for the corner of Haight and Ashbury, San Francisco.  I traveled to the high Himalayas, sailed the South China Sea. I was always looking for a good light.  I am settled here on the coast of California, where the fog gives a beautiful soft light to fields of begonias.

I don’t want to write a how-to blog about begonias, I can’t, I am no expert on how to grow begonias, but I know some experts. 

There are other things to write about begonias
Let’s write about being shown the light in the strangest of places.
Let’s write about beauty.
About fashion versus style.
About home-grown versus mass produced.
About breeding begonias.
About the Old Ranch
About the history of this crop
Maybe, even something about growing begonias, who knows, let’s see where we go.

I want to make a couple things clear.  I do not grow begonias for a hobby.  I am a professional begonia grower.  I work for Golden State Bulb Growers.  We are the developer of the AmeriHybrid begonia.

I don’t however think that makes me a better begonia grower.  I learn all the time from the begonia hobbyist.  The person who grows begonias for a hobby has a passion that I can borrow from and learn from.  For a hobby, I grow vegetables.

I don’t know about different types of begonias.  I know about Begonia X Tuberhybrida.

I learned my trade from Todd Brown, who learned from his father Worth.  Below you see a picture of myself and Todd Brown taken in 1985.  I am studiously taking notes from that years “specific crosses” this is how I learned. (I will talk about that process in future posts)

Todd Brown (back to camera) and Andy Snow

I first photographed tuberous begonias in the Himalayas ten years earlier.  I didn’t even know what those beautiful flowers were. 

Below you see a picture of a Tibetan tending to tuberous begonias on a window sill of Ling Rinpoche’s house in Macleod Gange, above Dharmasala India. 

Imagine my surprise when many years later, now working as begonia grower, I finally had the time to go over the hundreds of slides I had taken during my travels and found these photos.  Hey! I know what those are. Those are begonias!

It’s been a long road, one that settled in sandy soil and drifting fog.

Begonia fields in Marina, Ca

I hope we can start a dialogue.  I will try to post at least once per week.

Best Regards -Andy


  1. More stories! Love the photos. Scarlet and ruby begonias forever.

  2. I'm a fan already. Love begonias, too, not very good at growing them (well, more specifically, at "keeping them alive") but I appreciate their beautiful rich colors. Even the leaves are gorgeous.

  3. Will tuberous begonias grow in southern New Jersey? We have sandy soil and clay.

    The flowers are beautiful. I have only seen very small versions of the begonias which you grow.

  4. Hi TBDancer and Val
    Thanks for commenting on my blog, I feel like a real blogger now (my wife's comment didn't count)
    I am wondering TB why your begonias are going down. Is it mildew or some other reason?
    Val: Tuberous begonia will grow fine for you. my relatives in Michigan grow them every summer. Although many people grow them as a garden plant, I would recommend that you grow them in a pot, in fact I am working on a post where I am going to make the point that they are the PERFECT container plant. Keep them out of the hot summer sun and they'll be fine.

  5. Andy,
    Wow - do I ever feel dumb. I have seen tuberous begonias many, many times, and admired them greatly, but I sure didn't know that's what they were. And yours are SPECTACULAR! I love anything that's "rose-like," such as peonies, without actually being a rose. This is making me want to run right over to the nearby garden center.

    I am not a huge gardener, and I'm also in extremely hot and dry Missouri. But I think my porch that's mostly shaded all day would do fine for a pot of these. Thank you for the inspiration, and keep the stories coming!

  6. Hi RiderWriter,

    My mother grows begonias in Michigan every summer. A shady porch would be fine for pots of begonias. Keep them damp if it's hot.

    thanks for the comment.


  7. Great blog - great subject. I have been growing tuberous begonias for more than 10 years now. It has been challenging with our hot, humid New Jersey Summers.

    A couple of things I've learned is to avoid wetting the foliage and to keep them up off the ground to prevent disease organisms from splashing up onto the foliage.

    I grow them on a Northeast facing porch. The plants are in 8 inch plastic azalea pots with Promix HP. In turn, the begonia pots are in raised planter boxes with open mesh bottoms. The raised boxes prevent water splashing up from the ground. The roof of the porch provides some protection from rain, but when thunderstorms are imminent, I pull them back further under the porch. They've survived temps in the high 90's so far with these disease prevention methods. Most importantly, only water when the surface of the mix starts to dry!

    This past January I once again grew seed from Blackmore and Langdon in Great Britain. You can see the results on the Begonia forum in Gardenweb.


  8. Hi Bayard,

    Thanks for the reply, all good ideas. We always do our greenhouse watering in the AM and don't wet the follage.

    I am so jealous of your B&L seedling begonias. This was the first year I tried their seed and mine did not germ well. Such is life. There's always next year.
    Thanks again.
    -Regards Andy