Debbie Arrington

Seeds: Begonias survive shaker, now ready for show

Video: How to make your own begonia terrarium

Sacramento begonia expert Laura Leaphart offers some tips on creating inexpensive terrariums for humidity-loving begonias. She includes suggestions for containers that are ideal and easy to find. Video by Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee.
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Sacramento begonia expert Laura Leaphart offers some tips on creating inexpensive terrariums for humidity-loving begonias. She includes suggestions for containers that are ideal and easy to find. Video by Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee.

Joan Coulat admits she was shook up by the Aug. 24 Napa quake – and so were a thousand begonias.

These prized plants already had been through some near-death experiences. But they’re true survivors – and remarkably thriving.

“Now, I just want somebody to come and buy them,” Coulat said. “They need good homes.”

These begonias will be among the big draws at this weekend’s 66th annual Sacramento Begonia Show and Sale, hosted by the local chapter of the American Begonia Society at the Shepard Garden and Arts Center in McKinley Park. The Sacramento branch is named in Coulat’s honor. She takes a very active part in assuring the show’s continued success.

Now retired after the closure of Capital Nursery, Coulat still uses her industry connections. For decades, she ordered plants and gift items for Capital’s Freeport Boulevard location. She also took advantage of Capital’s greenhouses to nurture plants for the begonia sale.

With Capital gone, Coulat enlisted friends in Napa to care of her group’s sale-bound begonias as they matured. This year’s inventory went through quite a lot.

“I bought 1,000 plants last May (from a Southern California grower),” Coulat explained. “They shipped them – and lost them. They were supposed to go directly to a nursery in St. Helena. Nobody knew where they were.”

After more than a week of searching, the begonias were finally located and delivered to Cottage Gardens in St. Helena. Amazingly, they were still in good condition. Coulat and other club members made sure the begonias were transplanted to larger pots and nurtured to look their best come September’s sale.

Then the earth moved.

“When the earthquake hit, I was so worried about these plants,” Coulat said. “I finally got hold of the owner of Cottage Gardens. She said the plants got a real good shake. They were all laying down (on their sides after the quake), but they didn’t break. They’re all right.”

In addition to the popular plant sale, this weekend’s judged show features several examples of exhibition-quality begonias, ranging from hanging baskets with cascades of neon-bright blooms to rarities with fascinating foliage.

This has not been an easy summer for begonias, Coulat noted.

“They’ve had a hard time because of the drought,” she said. “We’re trying to be real careful with water. I used to flush them (soak the pots with water), but not any more. You can tell. The substance of the leaf is not the same. They don’t have the bushiness (they would with more water). But they’re doing OK. They still look good.”

As a substitute for frequent watering, Coulat mists her begonias on hot days with water recycled from cooking or from a shower bucket. “That seems to really help. ... Next year, I hope the drought is finally over with. I’m ready for some rain.”

Oh, and no more earthquakes.

Sacramento begonia expert Laura Leaphart offers some tips on creating inexpensive terrariums for humidity-loving begonias. She includes suggestions for containers that are ideal and easy to find. Video by Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee.

Home show focuses on drought

Friday kicks off the 20th annual California State Home and Garden Show’s fall celebration at the Sacramento Convention Center. California’s continuing water crisis definitely colored the show’s seminars. Many of the speakers will focus on water-related issues.

“I know everyone is acutely aware of the drought, but there are answers out there on how to cope with the effects,” said show producer Sherry Larsen.

These speakers hope to move the drought conversation forward. For example, “Botanical Explorer” Joe Simcox – who has studied plants in more than a hundred countries – will focus on “the incredible and vast varieties of plants that can thrive in our changing Central Valley climate,” Larsen said.

There are many potential landscape candidates out there, waiting to be discovered by Sacramento gardeners.

Chris Lopez, co-founder of GrowWater and a water-harvesting expert, and Chris Brown, former executive director of the California Urban Water Conservation Council, will offer practical knowledge about how to make the most of the water we have.

Their solutions for gardens and landscapes are “not just during our drought time but for the future,” Larsen added. “They will provide the bases to start rethinking our water usage and the choices we make in our landscape design and plant selections.”

Those ideas will be illustrated in a show garden designed by Nathan Beeck of Clearwater Design.

The home show runs three days at the Convention Center, Friday through Sept. 14. For a full speaker schedule and discount coupons: www.calstateshows.com.

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