Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hiding the ugly bits

In my previous posting (about our two different and very pretty Christmas bushes) I thought about including a photo of the NZ Christmas bush in-situ, blocking for passers-by the less than wonderful view of our narrow side passage cluttered with colourful wheelie bins for garbage and recycling. As I went out this sunny morning to recycle even more empty festive season wine bottles and assorted newspapers, I couldn't help but admire how nice our cane begonia looks right now. The NZ Christmas bush has just a few scraps of flowers left, but I've overcome my reluctance to display my garden's 'ugly bits' due to the begonia's radiance, so here goes...

Happy in its spot: brief morning sun and cool afternoon shade all year. The cane begonia is in full flower now. It's just in a large pot but you never see much of the pot, so dense is the foliage. And, as you look down the side passage towards the street, you primarily just see the begonia, although there's only so much you can hide. An air-conditioner unit and a water heater reside here, too, but at least they're not what your eye is drawn towards.

It's covered in these clusters of yellow-centred pure white blooms.

The leaf shapes have their own charm, too, crinkled at the edges and always seemingly with a new leaf on the way.

Overall the effect is green and lovely and lush, and from our living room we look out the window to these tall canes of green and white occasionally moving in the eddies of wind that work their way down the narrow passage. I only feed these plants with slow-release pellets applied once a year in spring, although they do need a fairly steady supply of water – roughly every second day in summer, much less often in winter.

Here's the plant I call "Son of". While repotting mother begonia last year into a bigger pot I broke off some bits (the canes are a bit fragile to handle) so all the broken-off bits were unceremoniously poked straight into this spare pot of mix that was sitting around looking unemployed. Though it's not the best looking setting, what with the bins to the left and the wall-mounted ladder behind, the effect of this pot is a delight for me. That's my home-office window behind the pot, and in just one and a bit years the broken-off cuttings have roared along, and now my very limited window view is no longer of just yucky metal fencing – it's becoming much more green, white and full of swaying life.

Such has been the success of the cuttings that I'm striking more for some friends with a similar side passage problem at their house. All of these seem to have taken and are showing signs of leaf growth already. The pot of cuttings is sitting on the green recycling bin, as I want them to strike and start growing in the same position, which must be perfect for their needs.

Now, whizzing out to the view from the street, this is the NZ Christmas bush in action, blocking your view of the wheelie bin collection. One thing I really like about the black pot here is that it has built-in pot feet, which provide excellent soil drainage yet also make it easy to occasionally rotate the pot to ensure even growth on all sides.

If you rubber-neck around the side of the pot you can still barely see the bins, so this one plant does its view-blocking job very well.

Couldn't resist repeating a shot of the NZ Christmas bush bloom from the last posting, even though the plant has largely finished flowering now (well ahead of schedule, unfortunately, but in the cooler NZ climate it keeps to the festive flowering timetable a lot better).

Nevertheless, its foliage is quite handsome in its evergreen way, and dense enough to provide the cover-up which was its initial assignment in life.

Looking deeper into the property, the side passage ends at the corner where Pam's home office and art studio is. The dense, glossy green leaves of the Murraya paniculata provide a tidy backdrop of green (plus big flushes of sweetly orange-flower-scented white blooms in summer, especially a few weeks after a really good soaking of rain). Ghostly grey streamers of Spanish moss help to soften the look of the metal fence. Down at ground level a gaggle of pots hides the raised garden bed in which the Murraya grows. On the left are the bromeliads and a Spathiphyllum, which is utterly irresistble to snails. And on the right is the hardiest plant in the garden, a foxtail fern, which I think should be renamed Weedus indestructibilis. It never gets watered, fed, repotted, thought about or kissed by sunlight much for that matter, and it has thrived there for at least a dozen years or more.

Covering up the ugly bits might be as simple as putting something green and dense in front of them, but the problem is finding something which does the job year-round. I imagine in extremely cold climates it's virtually not on, so you'd resort to built screens if the ugly bits really bothered you, but in an evergreen place like Sydney it's possible to create living green screens. All it takes is a dense and tough enough plant to handle the conditions. Luckily in the cane begonia and the NZ Christmas bush I've found plants that not only grow densely, but also chime in with some extraordinarily pleasing flowers, too. And all with just a couple of hours of morning sun a day. Great performers!


Michelle said...

Those are both lovely plants. Do you know what the botanical names are? I bet they would do very nicely here in California, if I could find them.

Jamie said...

Hi Michelle

The cane begonia also has the common name of Angel Wing Begonia, and its botanical name is Begonia coccinea. However, as well as the white-flowered form there are forms of Begonia coccinea with red flowers, and others with pink flowers. In garden beds they can get fairly tall, up to 3m if they like the conditions.

The NZ Christmas bush has the botanical name of Metrosideros collina. There are countless different cultivars of this plant, often with the names of Pacific Islands in them (such as Tahiti, Fiji, etc). I've foolishly lost the plant label, but the cultivar name was something like 'Fiji' or "Fiji (something)'.

There are lots of different Metrosideros around, some such as M. excelsa are quite big trees. Other Metrosideros are more shrub-like. They all do especially well by the seaside, as well.



tarot said...

wow, very beautiful plants. I like the photos

Linda Lunda said...


Anonymous said...

Jaime, I bookmarked this page a long time ago and I still come back to it almost daily. I sure would love a cutting. I have shopped all of the online plant shops in North America and eBay and have not found anyone who carries a white-flowering cane begonia like this. It is absolutely gorgeous (both of them)! Do you have it in sun, shade or part sun/shade? And do you ever come to the US? I sure would love to have just a tiny cutting of your prize-winner begonia. (Still trying to figure out how I could do that?!?)

You sure do have a green thumb!

Jamie said...

Usually if a plant is unobtainable in your area, that's because it doesn't suit that climate. Unfortunately, sending cuttings through the mail isn't legal, for good reasons. The only tip I can offer is to search for it using its botanical name of Begonia coccinea. Common names vary so much from place to place, that the cane begonia might be known by some completely different name in your area.
Good look with your search for it. If you find it one day, it should be a big thrill. The good news is that if you do ever find it, it grows easily from cuttings.

Anonymous said...

Jaime, thank you so much for the reply! I just love your white begonia so much. I should have told you more about me. I live in Jacksonville, Florida (United States) - prime place for growing begonias, including in the ground. I am an avid gardener and have close to 100 different trees, plants, shrubs, flowers and bulbs in my yard. If we lived closer, I have so many different things I could give you in trade. My "signature" plant is amaryllis. I have hundreds of them, cross-polinate every spring, and then grow them from seed.

I have searched all of the begonia societies, online specialty shops, eBay, etc. - still haven't found one. I think it is because cane begonias are not in "fashion/style". I see very few begonias in the nurseries. I do have the pink variety of coccinea and unfortunately, many websites refer to coccinea as meaning "pink". I wish I had the complete name of yours. I have had no trouble finding the pink one for sale online on a number of websites - always with the name 'Begonia coccinea' - but the white one... that is another story! Incidentally, my next-door neighbor is living in Sydney right now - she and her family are there for two years - returning back to Jacksonville, Florida next January 2012. How I would love to ask her to bring me a cutting when she comes home - but I wouldn't dare bother her with such things when she will be involved with moving back home. I will continue my pursuit of the elusive begonia and maybe one day I will find it. Who would think it would so hard to find?!
Thank you again for the favor of your reply. (Would still love to know how much light you give it.)
Happy, happy gardening!

Anonymous said...

Post on the Begonia Forum of the Gardenweb:


Jamie said...

Now I'm up to speed on what you're after. So the white one is a bit rare? Didn't know that, as it's moderately common around here, as is the pink one. And in your climate it should thrive. If your Sydney-based friend is willing to take some cuttings back, they can get in contact with me via my email, which is

As for the light levels, it's on the eastern side of the house. It gets morning sun all year. In summer it is in sun until midday, then in the shade of the building all afternoon. In winter, it still gets morning sun, but naturally enough it doesn't last as long.

The plants are almost unkillable here in Sydney, even in a pot. I haven't repotted them for years, but I keep up the supply of water and slow-release fertiliser, and they do look healthier than the neglected ones in other people's gardens around the area, but even the neglected ones look pretty good.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jamie,

Yes, I'm still after this begonia. It has become very apparent that while it is somewhat common in Australia, it is nearly impossible to find in the US, including online begonia specialty retailers. Nary a one carries this begonia. I got some begonia societies interested. I think they are paying attention to the fact that this would be a good seller in the U.S. I have also stirred up interest in several online begonia forums. If you are still seeing a lot of traffic on this post... well... you can blame me. :) I hope to see this one sold in the U.S. in five years or less. I guess I can wait.

By the way, my next-door-neighbor is back from Australia and has moved back into her home. I never did have the guts to ask her to bring me a cutting. I don't think she would have been able to without import/export certificates and credentialing anyway (which I don't have). She said she loved living in your beautiful city.

Jacksonville, Florida

Anonymous said...

Hi, Jaime,
It's now late July 2018 and I'm *still* looking for this plant! I would never have thought that it wouldn't be available in the U.S. by now. Hope your winter is not too bad... we've had a lot of rain this summer, keeping temps down to tolerable.
Happy gardening!