Joan Coulat misses work. A longtime fixture at Capital Nursery’s Freeport Boulevard location, Coulat retired when Capital closed last year. She misses people and an often-hectic schedule.
Not that either is a problem this weekend. At the Shepard Garden and Arts Center in McKinley Park, Coulat will be very busy and surrounded by fellow gardeners at one of her favorite events — the annual show and sale of the Sacramento chapter of the American Begonia Society.
As always, Coulat — who serves as the annual show’s chairwoman — made sure the club’s sale will be special. This year, she faced an added challenge: No Sacramento nursery or greenhouse to stash her inventory.
For many years, Coulat grew out the propagated begonias and tubers in spare space at Capital, where she could keep a sharp eye on the young plants’ progress.
Although she fretted for months, Coulat is pleased. She has more than 1,300 begonias ready for this weekend’s sale.
“We’ve never had such good quality,” she said. “Cottage Garden Nursery in St. Helena grew them for us. These begonias are the best we ever had.”
Throughout the spring and summer, Coulat has been back and forth from Napa Valley to monitor the begonias’ progress. When show weekend finally arrived, she was awestruck by the assortment.
“We have everything imaginable,” Coulat said as she made final preparations. “We have 150 Rex begonias. Oh, they’re gorgeous! We have many other begonias in 4-inch pots that are growing so fast they’re almost ready for 6-inch pots. We have canes, shrubs, tuberous; you name it. Many of these varieties you won’t see anywhere else.”
Most of the plants will be priced at $4 to $8. Even if you’re not interested in bringing home begonias, you can see scores of gorgeous specimens grown by local gardeners.
In addition, the society’s experts will teach the basics of begonia success, from choosing the right potting soil to grooming a plant for more blooms.
The begonia show kicks off a busy month at the Shepard Garden and Arts Center with plenty of opportunities to buy new plants or learn about different plants’ cultivation. Next weekend, the Delta Gesneriad and African Violet Society hosts its annual show and sale. On Sept. 27-28, the California Native Plant Society hosts its annual sale of perennials and other natives. That’s followed Oct. 5-6 by the Shepard Center’s own Fall Sale, featuring wares and plants from dozens of local garden clubs.
Begonias always attract a crowd. With about 1,500 different species, begonias rank among America’s favorite flowers. In fact, one new hybrid — Santa Cruz Sunset, a cascading red-orange begonia that’s perfect in hanging baskets — was voted the 2012 American Garden Award for Most Popular Flower.
Adapted well to California gardens, begonias are native to tropical regions of Central and South America, Africa and southern Asia. Their name, coined by a French botanist, is in honor of Michel Begon, who served as colonial governor of Haiti in the late 1600s.
Now, there are many thousands of begonia varieties in gardens around the world and new ones seem to pop up every spring. Unlike many other plants, different species of begonias can be hybridized with each other, creating countless cultivars.
That variety keeps tantalizing gardeners to try more begonias.
I admit I’ve been a begonia fan since childhood. During summer, a handsome row of pink and white bedding begonias always graced the space under our front window. But it was a copper-colored tuberous begonia that really captured my imagination. Each summer, it emerged out of an emerald bed of baby tears in a shady corner where nothing else seemed to grow. Forgotten all winter and spring, this magical plant seemed to come out of nowhere, capping its reappearance with 4-inch wide blooms that looked like shiny orange camellias.
Tuberous begonias still enthrall me. Planted in hanging baskets on the edge of our patio, fascinating flowers bloom at eye level and mimic other familiar favorites. Some look like neon-pink dahlias, others like vibrant-yellow carnations. A few red and white blooms could double as roses.
I also have a soft spot for angel wing begonias. Their variegated foliage brightens shady spots where other plants struggle to survive.
Relatively easy to grow, begonias need bright shade and winter protection. They’re ideal for container gardening; in pots, they’re a cinch to move while in search of the perfection not-too-hot, not-too-cold location. But with filtered sunlight and moist (not soggy) soil, they really thrive in Sacramento, particularly in summer.
See for yourself this weekend.
Said Coulat, “We’re going to have a really wonderful show.”
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.