Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Ideal Container Plant

Style, Fashion and Convenience.
by Andy Snow

Our company, Golden State Bulb Growers, has always grown begonias and callas.  Many years ago begonias were our main crop, we grew a few callas.  Now the situation is the opposite, in terms of acreage we grow ten times as many callas as begonias.  Callas are our cash cow.
Why?  Perhaps callas are the ideal container plant. 

Calla Pink Melody

Lets look at the calla and the begonia.

Callas are sleek and modern, they are like a runway fashion model. 
Begonias are old world, romantic and voluptuous, they are more like Marilyn Monroe.
Is that why callas are so popular? Maybe.

I think the real reason callas are so popular is that they bloom on a schedule and they can withstand shipping.  The vast majority of our calla sales are to professional growers who take the pot to market with bloom. 

I have noticed that there has been a noticeable shift away from planning to just doing.  I know that my mother and grandmother, for example, canned the produce of summer for enjoyment in the winter.  Even though I grow vegetables for our table, I don’t preserve anything beyond freezing pesto and plum chutney.

I think this not-planning has gone way overboard of late.  I hear that it is becoming uncommon for people to make plans for, say, the weekend.  They’ll just text “hey, were going to the beach…see you there?” or something, (no doubt using abbreviations and while driving).

We’ve become more the grasshopper, less the ant.

A calla that is grown in Half Moon Bay can be shipped across the country and sold at a corner flower stand in Manhattan. 

You can pick up a beautiful calla on your way to your mother-in-law's house for Sunday dinner, no planning needed.  She’ll love it.

Can’t do that with a begonia, sorry.  What are we giving up for the convenience? A grand one-of-a-kind plant that will definitely wow your mother-in-law.   Hand grown by you. Your mother in law will have it blooming for months, and again the following year.  She’ll think of you each time she sees it, she’ll say nice things about you to her friends.

Begonias do get sold to professional growers, but only a small percentage.  Only a specific kind of grower can grow begonias because they refuse to behave in a shipping box.  So the nurseries of tuberous begonia growers are typically a high-end and smaller operation.  They typically have a growing operation in the back and sell in the front. Hence, no shipping.  They are what we call a grower-retailer instead of grower-shipper.  The big guys are grower-shippers.  If your nursery has nice begonias, you can be sure it's a good nursery.  You should stay out of Cosco anyway, it's killing all that's good in merchandizing.

I have tried to work out how to ship begonias because I knew that it would increase our sales.  I have tried chemicals with only limited success and I bred a line of begonias just for that purpose.  The On Top® begonias which are a bi-color multi-flora type tuberous begonia were bred for this purpose. They're great in other ways too. They have lots of smaller blooms, they don’t require staking. They branch real well and take heat better than others begonias.  They make a good garden item, but it is not usually why people love tuberous begonias, they love those large spectacular flowers.

Tuberous begonia pots require a little fussing to give their months of bloom time; pick off the spent blooms, maybe put in a stake late in the season.  Feed and water.  If you're unlucky and the weather hot, mildew may be a problem. (Write to me, I have a couple recommendations, or see this that I found with a Google search.)

A little fussing will give you a lot of rewards.  A lot of fussing will get you a prize winner.  But if the minimal fussing takes you out to your porch at the end of the day (best with a margarita in hand) to touch and tidy your collection, isn’t that a good thing?

Beauty is not always convenient. 

Below is our front porch with begonias and freesias.

Tuberous begonias live a long time; I have in our breeding stock begonia tubers that are over 25 years old.  You could buy a few each year, keep your favorites and give the others to your friends and relatives and you will soon have a unique collection that reflects your taste; you will, after a couple years, have a “relationship” with them.

So I say, (without any prejudice) that tuberous begonias are the ideal container plant.

Begonia Picotee Sunburst


  1. I like begonias much better than callas and think they are FAR more rewarding for the home gardener.

  2. I like whichever will do better at 8,300 feet.

  3. Well Bill,
    You have two strikes against you. Not only are you at 8,300 feet but you live in a desert!
    Ever consider dry flowers?

  4. We are coming to Capitola for the begonia festival next week, can you recommend a good nursery for begonias?

  5. Hi Jenifer,

    Unfortunately, Golden State Bulb Growers does not sell potted plants, only tubers and seed.

    However, Aladdin Nursery on Freedom Blvd does have some tuberous begonias that are being produced by a local grower from his own stock. The good thing is, you can pick them in bloom and get what you want.