Wednesday, November 28, 2012

That’s not what I want to talk about.

Excuses, excuses, excuses

Well so much for my goal of getting out a couple blogs each month. 

I guess everyone has excuses, me too. 

We started calla harvest the middle of September and there are calla bulbs (or corms or tubers, whatever those confounded things are) everywhere. The warehouse is overflowing and they are stuffed into greenhouses and the old derelict mushroom plant down the road. 

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

I also went off in the middle of this busy time to study music with Fred Morrison for 4 days at Lake Tahoe. It was great fun and the weather and venue very pleasant.  The days challenging and the music after dinner delightful. The music just flows though Fred Morrison, like he’s some kind of conduit, and he gets such a kick out of it that he grins and laughs while he plays, like it tickles. This link shows Fred playing the Low D Whistle with his pipes on his lap.

Fred Morrison playing bellows blown Smallpipes

 But that’s not what I want to talk about.

We had a visit from Matthiuas Rohde of Rieger Begonias.  Rieger is in the business of producing begonias from cuttings.  They produce a begonia that is a cross between species of which one species is a tuberous begonia.  These crosses are also sometimes called hiemalis begonias.  But in our industry, Rieger’s begonias are so ubiquitous that their family name has come to mean a whole class of begonias. Mr. Rohde is the head of the family business now and a direct descendent of great grandpa Rieger.  Grandpa Rieger had only daughters and so none of the progeny carry his name.  Pity, I could have had my picture taken with a Mr. Rieger standing in our begonia fields.

We have a deal with Riegers where they will try and propagate our Scented Begonias from cuttings.   Since cutting begonias is their business (Riegers do not come true from seed), it stands a chance of being a way to get our Scented begonias to market.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

I also had the wind taken out of my sails the other day. 

See, I was checking the links on this blog, the ones you see on the right, just to make sure they were all good.  ABS; check. Capitola Begonia Festival.  Check.  University of Minnesota:  Check. Our web site “Your Source for AmeriHybrid® Begonias”…our begonias…I got the message you see below.

What! No begonias?

I wrote, in a earlier blog, about our company culture being basically anti-retail but we aren’t even selling our own begonias! 

I, of course, went to talk to the sales guys and they gave me lots of disclaimers, reasons and qualifiers but said basically “we can’t have begonias on our web site or someone might buy them.”   I let that sink in a minute.

I went to our new CEO (me, rather disgruntled) CEO says he’s totally behind getting the begonias back to profitability through increasing sales.  Good for him.   He says there’s a new web site in the works. Good for him.  Going to be called  “Good for you” says I, “when will it be up?” “End of January” says he.  Sooner, we all hope.

There’s some sort of ego thing going on here I know there is.  And I know, it’s my problem.  For 29 years I have bred tuberous begonias and I want to see them out in the public.  I like it when people are complimentary about the plants.  I even get some weird kind of second hand satisfaction when people grow our competitors tuberous begonias and like them.  And of course, now I’m blogging; another sign of an obviously out of control ego.

My wife says I need to detach.  I can, I suppose, continue to breed begonias for my own pleasure until our company declines to grow them any more.  Why would we stop growing them?  Well, because we don’t sell them!

Note:  Our begonias are available. Do a search for AmeriHybrid Begonias.  There are some nice web sites out there with our material that you can actually purchase.  I have updated the sidebar with some suppliers.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.  Not at all.

I want to talk about beauty (what else is there to talk about?)

“Beauty... is the shadow of God on the universe.”  ~Gabriela Mistral

Now look, if I bred corn, wheat or soybeans I could tell my self that I am doing something for world hunger and helping to feed a growing population.  But, I breed an ornamental crop.  It is a facile occupation.  The only redeeming quality of an ornamental plant is it looks nice.  The only reason to breed them is to create beauty.  And a flowering plant is a small beauty, it’s not the Grand Canyon or sunset over the Pacific, it’s not even a baby’s giggle or a young woman’s smile.  It’s a small thing; but life is mostly many small things, some pretty.

“Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance.”  ~John Ruskin

We all know about “the eye of the beholder”, but this small beauty that I work at is a learned beauty.  By that I mean the characteristics I select are the characteristics that I have been taught are the standards for beauty for tuberous begonias.  Deep multi-petaled double flowers presented well on the plant.  But, this is not everyone’s idea of beauty.

Let me illustrate with a story, a short one I promise.  

Several years ago we grew some Hanging Basket plants for The City of Capitola to display along the streets during the Begonia Festival.  The city said they would take maybe 20, so I grew 25 just to have some slack.

When the time came for them to be picked up, the City sent some public works workers to pick them up.

Standing in the greenhouses, the crew leader asked me “which ones can we take?”
I said “You can take any you want”

“Good”, he says and the first one he walks up to is a plant that was absolutely stone single; big floppy Bozo flowers (I should have chucked it). “I like this one,” he says “it looks like a hibiscus”

“No” says I, not proud of a plant that was below the standard we strive for, “you can’t have that one.”

“You said I could have any one I wanted”

“I’ve changed my mind.  I’ll pick the plants” 
And so I did.

Was he wrong?  Was the single less beautiful?  Was I right?  Were the doubles more beautiful?

The begonia breeder Benary won all kinds of awards with their begonia pin-up a couple years ago.  It’s (just) a single flowered tuberous begonia.  Won everything the year they introduced it.

Pin-up Rose

All those begonia boliviensis selections that have hit the market recently, what’s with those?  There’s even one, (by Benary again) called “Santa Cruz Sunset”  Ouch! That’s close to home.  What am I missing here?

Begonia Boliviensis "Santa Cruz Sunset" Photo from Benary web site
Begonia Boliviensis "Santa Cruz Sunset" Photo from Benary web site

So I am opening my narrow little mind to the potential for other sorts of tuberous begonias, other flower shapes and their potential.  I am making some crosses and we have planted out some seed from the 1960s and 1970s from back when the stock was different.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

“Flowers... are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty out values all the utilities of the world.”  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Here are a few photos from new crosses harvested in 2011 and grown this summer.

A cross between Brown's lines and Antonelli lines.  Photo by Worth Brown

A new #11 (Orange Ruffled) photo by Worth Brown

A new On Top Begonia.  #27.  Photo by Worth Brown

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" Photo by Worth Brown

Scarlet Begonia Photo by Worth Brown
and I’ll leave you with one final quote which seems to be talking about me:

“Beauty and folly are old companions.”~ Benjamin Franklin

Regards -Andy


  1. The new crosses are gorgeous! Very interesting post--thanks!

  2. HI Lia,

    Thanks for your comment. Do you grow begonias?
    regards -Andy

  3. A couple of people commented on my facebook page that they enjoyed this post but couldn't post a comment. One also admired your new crosses!

  4. I'm sorry about that. I don't know what's up with the comments. I changed the settings to allow anyone even anonymous users. I did add something called "word verification" to keep the bots out.
    I hope it works.

  5. I like the big multi-petaled doubles. In fact, I went to your company's website earlier today to see if tubers were for sale yet and got the same disappointing page.

  6. Hi Ruth,

    We will begin to harvest of this year's begonia crop the second half of December. By the time we wash them, dry then, and sort them, it will be after the New Year before they become available.
    Please check back. If you don't see what you need, write to me (comment on the blog will do) or write to me at absnow(insert "at" symbol here) I'll make sure your can get some tubers.
    by the way, thanks for commenting on my blog

  7. Priscilla Purinton: RI Branch of ABSDecember 31, 2012 at 4:33 AM

    Very nice blot. Very personal and informative. I hope those old seeds you are growing will liven up your breeding program. Clothing and furniture styles from the 60's are showing up... why not some retro plants?

  8. Hi Priscilla,
    Thanks for reading my blog. I don't know exactly where we're going with that old seed. Our sales person wants to market an "heirloom" begonia, but I am afraid a first-time tuberous begonia grower would be disapointed in them where they would be happy with a picotee or ruffled.
    All tuberous begonias are classic in a way. They are not a modern sleek plant like the calla.
    Thanks again, I am glad you enjoy my blog
    regards -Andy