Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bolivian Begonia

Readers of this blog will know that it is not a gossip blog, but one about art, travel, cooking and nature.

A plant, to me, is as important in the scheme of things as a person. It is just because we can think that makes us believe we are more important than plants, trees or animals. We are not.

And when we come to the end of our lives the process and end result is much the same as anything else coming to the end of its time on earth.

This is a blog about a plant.

I think it must have been when my wife, Margreet, was recovering from an operation to her foot that she was presented with a Bolivian begonia (B. boliviensis “Firecrackerto be exact) as a get-well present from her Embassy.

It was a truly magnificent plant of long, arching, well-branched stems, festooned with bright orange, pendant flowers.

Our newly acquired treasure, now thriving in a blue glazed pot, had pride of place, holding sway over all other colourful flowers in the centre of a peninsular of other pots in the centre of our flagstone-paved London garden.

I was not sure which kind of begonia it happened to be – fibrous rooted or corm (tuberous).

In late autumn at the onset of its first winter with us, a large corm became visible as its few fleshy stems withered and then finally fell away from the corm base.

I read that begonia corms should be dried up then and packed away in sand for the winter – which I did.

The display throughout the following year was just as spectacular, after having had the pleasure of seeing small shoots springing out of the dried and dead-looking tuber.

For last winter I decided to dispense with the previous year’s storing procedure and left it in its pot, but well insulated from the frost in bubblewrap. It was a disastrous decision. Beneath its insulation, the corm, damp and unseen, rotted away. It had to go to the compost heap, along with its soil, which was thickly matted with fine roots.

So I searched and found a nursery that would supply me with a replacement. I paid for it by post and awaited its arrival with happy anticipation.

When the cardboard box arrived from the nursery, the exterior dimensions were smaller by far than the whole of my original corm.

On prising open the cardboard I found only shredded paper as packing – but no Bolivian begonia.

About to contact the nursery in question, my fingers touched something very small among the packing. It was my new corm – so minute in size in its cellophane tube that I had very nearly thrown it away into the recycling bin with its wrapping.

Looking pathetically small, it has now been planted in the old pot with fresh, composty soil.

How many years, I wonder, will I have to wait and cosset this tiny stem with its few drooping leaves before, once again, I have a plant to fill my summer garden with colour?

I know that gardeners need patience. I will certainly need some for the begonia.