Unusual Leaves: More Texture

'Silver Lyre' Afghan Fig

‘Silver Lyre’ Afghan Fig

Unusual leaves bring a wonderful texture, as well as interesting colors, to the garden.




The variety available to an adventurous gardener feels infinite… and probably is infinite when one considers how many interesting new cultivars of plants like Coleus,   Heuchera, Begonia, Hosta, fern, and Caladium come on the market each year.




In addition to these perennials, there are a few new introductions of trees and shrubs with interesting variegation or unusual leaf color each season.

‘Black Lace’  Eldeberry, Sambucus nigra; ‘Ruby Falls’ Redbud, Cerceis canadensis; and ‘Maculata’ Lacecap Hydrangea come to mind immediately.

‘Black Lace’ Elderberry is on my “wish list” at the moment.


A variegated Lacecap Hydrangea

A variegated Lacecap Hydrangea


Some of these perennials, trees, and shrubs also offer beautiful flowers.

But the flowers are just a little something “extra,” compared to their beautiful leaves.

And while the flowers may add interest in their season, the fabulous foliage brings beauty to the garden month after month.


Buddleia, "Harlequin" sports beautiful variegated foliage all season long.

Buddleia davidii, “Harlequin” sports beautiful variegated foliage all season long.


Do you experiment with unusual  foliage in your garden?

So many residential gardens rely on a few standard, well known plants commonly available in “big box” shops.

This Begonia, purchased from The Homestead Garden Center several seasons ago, is similar to Plant Delight's "Pewterware" Begonia, hardy to Zone 8B.

This Begonia, purchased from The Homestead Garden Center several seasons ago, is similar in appearance  to Plant Delight’s “Pewterware” Begonia, hardy to Zone 8B.


These commonly used plants are easy to find, and we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from them.

They bring their own beauty, but overuse can also dull our appreciation of them.  Like white paint on a wall, we hardly ever notice them after a while.


A Begonia Rex, with fern.

A Begonia Rex, with fern and other Begonias.


Searching out a variety of plants with interesting foliage adds novelty and a touch of the unexpected to our garden.


Scented Pelargonium

Scented Pelargonium graveolens


Most any gardening “need” can be filled, whether we are creating a drought tolerant garden nourished only by a few inches of rain each  year, or a Forest Garden, unappetizing to deer and rabbits!


Collection of succulents.

Collection of succulents.

Small local nurseries, web nurseries, and specialty nurseries offer the most interesting varieties.

( I’m writing this within just a day or so of receiving Plant Delights Nursery’s fall 2014 catalog!  Yes, I’ve been closely studying it!)



It is the thrill of the hunt, and the fun of curating a collection, which fuels my search for unusual foliage plants.


This interesting Sedum, which I've not noticed before this year, was purchased at The Homestead Garden Center.

This beautiful Sedum, which I’ve not noticed before this year, was purchased at The Homestead Garden Center.  It will grow much like an Autumn Sedum, but with more interesting leaf color.

Plants with unusual leaves often grow best in  shady gardens.

Heuchera, ferns, Hosta, and Hydrangeas generally perform best in partial shade.


August 9, 2014 hummingbird moth 056

Newer cultivars can often withstand more direct sun than older varieties; but shade, especially during the heat of the day, is lit up by the outrageous foliage of these  flamboyant plants.


August 3, 2014 butterflies 047

Layering them creates interesting and complex compositions; dynamic living sculpture in the garden.


August 9, 2014 hummingbird moth 055


But wonderful foliage plants grow in full sun, also.


Siberian Iris, a gift from a dear friend, in a sunny garden

Siberian Iris, a gift from a dear friend, grow in a sunny garden area with Lavender, Comfrey, variegated iris, Eucalyptus, Artemisia, and other herbs.  Planted this season, the area is still filling in.


All of the amazing varieties of succulents enjoy sun to partial shade.


August 9, 2014 hummingbird moth 028

Variegated  Cannas, Hibiscus cultivars like ‘Kopper King” and nearly all of the herbs thrive in sunny beds.


Sage Officinallis, "Tricolor"

Sage Officinalis, “Tricolor”


Whether you search out the most interesting varieties of a particular group of plants, like Hostas or Ferns; or amass a collection of silver foliage plans, variegated plants, or purple leaved plants; you may discover that the more you work with foliage in your own garden, the more satisfied you feel with your efforts.

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.

Author Unknown


Staghorn Fern with Begonia

Staghorn Fern with Begonia


As for any artist, an expanded palette of plant possibilities inspires new ideas and presents novel solutions to site based problems.


Caladiums and other poisonous plants can grow mostly in peace in gardens plagued by deer.

Caladiums and other poisonous plants can grow mostly in peace in gardens plagued by deer.


It helps me to remember that,  “Gardening is the slowest art form.”

July 18, 2014 package 018

Wonderful effects can be created in the garden using just foliage; and they just keep getting better and more fully developed over time.


I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way — things I had no words for.

Georgia O’Keeffe


Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

August 9, 2014 hummingbird moth 066


January 6, 2013 catalog 001

When the 2014 Plant Delights Nursery catalog turned up in my mailbox this weekend, I was thoroughly Delighted!  So far I’ve managed to make it all the way once through to hit the highlights, but I’ll be returning to this beautiful book again and again over the next few weeks.

The “Guide To Using This Catalog Correctly” on page 10 begins,January 6, 2013 catalog 003

“Before you begin, let us again warn you about the addictive nature of the catalog…the owners or operators of Plant Delights Nursery have no responsibility for any loss of control, resulting in forfeiture of life savings, job, or family , which may result from viewing this catalog!  If you need your catalog sent in a plain brown envelope to hide it from your therapist or spouse, we would be delighted to oblige.”

August 28 2013 garden 032

Begonia grandis, “Heron’s Pirouette” as it arrived from Plant Delights in late summer.

Finally!   Kindred spirits who understand the intricacies of a gardening addiction!

Plant Delights Nursery, near Raleigh NC, shares the same 7b climate zone we enjoy here in Williamsburg.  These expert gardeners know how to work with the opportunities and limitations of this climate, and most importantly, how to stretch those limits with careful placement of marginal plants.  They offer a dizzying array of beautiful perennials collected from around the planet.  You will find plants offered in this catalog that you’ll never find anywhere else.  You will also find plants offered here which finally make it to the more mainstream plant vendors several years down the line.

January 6, 2013 catalog 004This is absolutely the most informative plant catalog I’ve ever read.  It is as much text book or gardener’s hand book as it is catalog. It also lists a variety of tours, workshops, and classes offered at their  Juniper Level Botanic Gardens, and a list of plant societies readers are encouraged to join.

If you are an enthusiast of particular genera, as am I, this catalog holds particular fascination.  This nursery specializes in several specific genus groupings of plants, such as Hosta, and offers many new introductions and unusual cultivars.  January 6, 2013 catalog 005

Epimedium, or Fairy Wings, hold a special place of honor in the 2014 offerings.  Nearly 30 different cultivars appear in the catalog.  This ephemeral, but hardy, woodland plant appeared as a surprise in my garden several years ago.  It came along with a gift of Hellebores from a friend’s garden.  Its beautiful leaves appeared the following spring, followed by delicate, graceful flowers.   It spread from her garden to ours that easily.  Now I’m trying to decide which cultivar offered by Plant Delights to order this spring.   I plan to grow some in a low pot with fern, close to the house, where I can really appreciate them.  What a difficult choice!

January 6, 2013 catalog 006Plant Delights ships their plants already growing in pots.  Plants arrive healthy and ready to take off.  I’ve had excellent experience with the staff over several orders now.  The nursery is run by kind, intelligent, horticulturalists, who love these plants and take a personal interest in their well-being; before and after sending them out into the world to grow in someone else’s garden.

If you’ve never had the fun of reading a Plant Delights catalog, please log onto their website, and  take a look around.  You may be as astonished as I at the wealth of information offered on a huge array of gardening topics.  Even the most experienced gardener will find information to amuse, entertain, inform, and of course, Delight!

January 6, 2013 catalog 007

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Planning That Happy New (Gardening) Year

Plants Through The Post

Plants Through the Post

Roses from a well known rose company arrived with an infestation of black spot.

Roses from a well known rose company arrived with an infestation of black spot in 2010.  They recovered, and are beautiful in the butterfly garden.

Specialty nurseries in North America offer most any plant one might hope to find.  I am amazed each year with the new ones I discover.  And I appreciate the ease of ordering online or over the phone to shop from home.

Sometimes I feel almost guilty about the volume of catalogs our postman must bring us, especially in spring and fall.

Roses already in growth take off much faster than bare root roses.

Roses already in growth take off much faster than bare root roses.

The catalogs certainly stack up quickly, and are filled with such an amazing variety of plants.  I love reading informative catalogs like the ones published by Wayside Gardens, Gardener’s Supply Company and Plant Delights Nursery.  They allow me to stay current with new introductions, new trends, and new products.  I can also compare prices for a product across several different companies to get a better idea of fair market value before ordering.

David Austin's English shrub roses offer wonderful fragrance.

David Austin’s English shrub roses offer wonderful fragrance.

There are some plants I nearly always order.  I prefer David Austin’s English roses for their form, color, and disease resistance and vigor.  McDonald Garden Center is the closest vendor  in this area, but they don’t carry the full catalog.  I find it easier to order directly from the catalog, using the spring promotions they always offer in gardening magazines to get a substantial discount on the plants.  David Austin roses are vigorous and healthy upon arrival, and they have a good customer service department.

Caladiums puchased as tuers ae economical, an deasy to start indoors.

Caladiums purchased as tubers are economical, and easy to start indoors.

I order Caladium tubers from one of the growers in Florida.  They offer a substantial discount on lots of 25 tubers or more of a given variety.  I always receive a few extra tubers, and end up paying less than $1 per plant.  Compared to the average of $8 per plant in early summer at most area nurseries, there is a substantial savings, in addition to the tremendous selection the growers offer.

I also order most of my Begonia plants from Garden Harvest Supply Company.   They have a huge selection from which to choose, send healthy, well rooted plants, and offer wonderful customer service.  They have such a huge variety of plants, one could outfit an entire garden right from the catalog and get great value on the purchase. Cane Begonias are hard to find in this area.  The Homestead Garden Center stocks more Begonias since I’ve been requesting them, but they still don’t have a large selection of unusual varieties.

The Homestead Garden Center stocks a huge selection of beautiful plants.

The Homestead Garden Center stocks a huge selection of beautiful plants.

I realize that we are very fortunate to live reasonably close to several good local nurseries.  We have a huge selection of plants and products available within easy driving distance.  That isn’t true everywhere, and so mail order nurseries, especially specialty nurseries; provide an important service to this nation of gardeners.

That said, I grow more cautious about purchasing plants through the mail each season.   I’ve done a lot of ordering over the years, with mixed results.  I’ve wasted a lot of money on plants that didn’t grow well, or ended up costing more than locally available equivalents would cost.  And, some once respected companies have been bought out by shady operations.  Operating under the familiar name, the company no longer lives up to its reputation and will not stand behind promises made.

A friend ordered this beautiful ginger lilywhe n weco mbined orders this spring.

A friend ordered this beautiful ginger lily from Easy To Grow Bulbs when we combined orders this spring.

As we begin a new gardening season, here are a few cautions I’d like to offer based on my own experiences, in hopes they might help someone just beginning to plant a garden of their own.

1.  Begin with an idea of what plants you want to grow, and then shop based on that list.  I started off doing it backwards.  I looked through the catalogs, and then tried to figure out where I could plant the things I wanted.   Like a child in a candy store, I wanted to order every beautiful blossom, leaf, and berry.  Not only is the garden rather chaotic using that approach, but one wastes money on plants that never quite fit in.

Elephant Ear, Colocasia, "Blue Hawaii" , is a plant I shopped for extensively this spring.

Elephant Ear, Colocasia, “Blue Hawaii,”  is a plant I shopped for extensively this spring.

2.  Once you’ve made a list of plants to acquire, shop around for the best deal.   In general, catalog prices are inflated.  Many companies start out with extremely high prices, and then lower them through a variety of special deals and offers.  I rarely pay full price for any mail order plant, because many of these nurseries offer serious discounts throughout the season.

May 13 2013 Garden photos 003

Iris and roses dominate this end of the butterfly garden in May. Iris form large clumps, and may be spaced widely when planted.

Internet searches for a given plant will show you the different vendors which offer it, and you can begin the comparison shopping from there.  Waiting until late in the season to place an order also yields a better price, in most cases.  Since shipping times are fixed by the seasons, this doesn’t cause you to get the plant much later than you otherwise would.

3.  Order in multiples.  Not only will you generally pay less per plant, but your garden will look more cohesive with a greater number of fewer plants.  Planting in clumps, or sweeps, of a single variety makes a much greater impact.  A hedge, or an allee, is an elegant way to plant trees and large shrubs.  Most vendors offer price breaks and promotional offers for larger orders.

This hardy Begonia from Plant Delights Nursery arrived in bloom.

This hardy Begonia from Plant Delights Nursery arrived in bloom.

4.  Pay attention to how a plant is shipped from a prospective vendor.  Will you receive a rooted cutting; a dormant, bare root plant; a potted and growing plant; a dormant bulb or tuber; or a packet of seeds?  The age of the plant and what form it takes affects its price, but also how long it will take for you to enjoy the plant’s beauty.

Roses normally come bare root, but can be purchased in small pots, actively growing, from some vendors.  Both forms can give flowers the first year they are planted.  Bare root roses can be planted earlier in the spring, but take longer to establish.

Fruit trees give spring a beautiful, early, start in the garden.

Fruit trees give spring a beautiful, early, start in the garden.

Fruit trees normally come as bare root whips.  Most reputable vendors allow you to select the size and age you prefer.  These must be soaked and planted soon after they arrive, and will take several years to mature enough to produce fruit.  Stark Bros. offers a great selection of healthy trees.

I once ordered a dozen very cheap Nanking cherry bushes from a popular discount nursery.  They were only a foot or so tall when they arrived, but were healthy.  I planted them as a hedge against a chain link fence to screen off the neighbor’s yard.  They grew quickly and filled in within a few years.  All of those rooted cuttings lived, bore cherries within a few years, and were covered in beautiful flowers each spring.  A great bargain!

Bare root perennials and ferns are often dried out bits of root which must be soaked and planted.  They may take weeks to show any growth, and a percentage may not survive at all.  Live plants from local nurseries are usually much better deals.

This David Austin rose was new in 2012, and really took off with growth this year.

This David Austin rose was new in 2012, and really took off with growth this year.

Rare vegetables and flowers may only be available as seeds.  The best selection of cultivars, especially heirloom varieties, usually comes from specialty seed companies.  If growing from seed, make sure you can offer the seedlings enough light and warmth indoors to get off to a good start.

5.  Research a plant thoroughly before ordering it, to make sure you can grow it successfully.  The more you know about an individual plant, the more success you can expect.  Especially when ordering trees, shrubs, and vines, know how large the plant will grow.  Visit the space where you’ll plant it.  Will it still fit in 15 years?  Will it get the correct light?  Do you have enough sun for it to grow well?  Will it get too much sun or wind?

Fuchsias need shade, protection from wind, and abundant moisture to survive a Virginia summer.

Fuchsias need shade, protection from wind, and abundant moisture to survive a Virginia summer.  These were ordered from Garden Harvest Supply Co., which offers an extensive collection.

Check the plant’s cultural requirements carefully to determine whether it will survive both winter and summer in your climate.  Determine whether you’ll need to provide an arbor, trellis, stakes, fencing, or other supports to properly grow the plant, and whether you need to order multiples for cross pollination.

6.  Check out the vendor’s reputation.  I was ready to place a large combined order for some friends and myself from one of the only nurseries offering muscadine grape vines, when I found some poor customer service reviews about the company.  I hadn’t ordered from this company before, and so did some digging.  It didn’t take long to realize that this little Mom and Pop operation had disappointed a lot of people.  We decided not to order.  It pays to do an internet search on any nursery to get the latest scoop.  Even well known, established companies change hands and let their customer service slip from time to time.  The information is out there and easy to find, and can save a lot of stress.

Document and contact the company if it doesn't arrive in prime condition.  This hydrangea eventually grew, but the vendor offered to replace it.

Document the condition of the shipment and contact the company if it doesn’t arrive in prime condition. This hydrangea eventually grew, but the vendor offered to replace it.

7.  Get answers to your questions before you place that order!  When will the order ship?  Will the company honor your request for an earlier or later shipping date?  When will your card be charged?  What will the company do if you are unhappy with the condition of your plants?  You will learn a lot by calling the companies customer service number to talk with the staff before placing an order.  In fact, you might learn that there is no regular staff to talk with customers….

Be cautions of a company which charges you for a plant when the order is placed, but won’t ship the plant for many months to come.  Your money is tied up for a long time with nothing to show for it.  Seeds and supplies are generally shipped year round, but living plants will be shipped only during certain windows in spring and fall depending on the weather.  I’ve had some frustrating experiences with a well known company who insisted on waiting too late into the early summer to ship out an order placed in late winter.

Most of the plants in this photo came in the mail only a few months before this photo, taken in June.

Most of the plants in this photo came in the mail only a few months before this photo, taken in late June.

8.  Remember to count the postage and handling charges into the order’s final price.  Again, the costs vary wildly from vendor to vendor.  If you are ordering a rare plant or cultivar, it may be worth it to you to pay whatever handling charges the vendor charges.  This is the case with Plant Delights Nursery.  They will ship up to three plants for a flat charge, and then charge per plant for each additional item.

Sometimes you’ll avoid shipping charges altogether by placing a larger order.  I love to work with gardening friends to place a combined order to reduce or eliminate shipping charges.  Often calculating the shipping is all it takes to convince me to be patient and shop locally for the plants I want to grow.

Specialty seeds must nearly always come from catalogs.

Specialty seeds must nearly always come from catalogs.

9.  Communicate with the vendor!  I generally send an email to confirm that I’ve received a shipment, and comment on its condition.  If it has arrived in good shape, I offer thanks.  If there is a problem, I document that problem immediately with photos.  Plants are a big investment, and reputable nurseries stand behind their products.  Once you’ve had a plant for a few weeks, it becomes more questionable whether a problem came with the plant or is due to your handling of it.

When you buy a plant locally, you take your choice of what is offered, finding the healthiest, largest, and best formed plants available.  When a garden center knows you, they may even hold back the best plants in a shipment for you if you ask.  Mail order nurseries simply pull stock, wrap and ship it.  Whether you get the best of the lot is pure chance, and you’re at the mercy of the nursery.

Hosta and ferns, always tempting in catalogs, perform best when purchased locally.

Hosta and ferns, always tempting in catalogs, perform best when purchased already in growth.  When purchased bare root, they take a long time- perhaps a year or more- to look good.

I’ve had mixed results in reporting problems.  Some nurseries will replace the plant immediately, some never will.  I’ve found that documenting the condition of plants on arrival increases the likelihood that the nursery will stand behind their products.

If there is an opportunity to rate the product or level of customer service online, remember to do so to help others.

I hope these suggestions and observations prove helpful to you.  All of this was learned the hard way, for good or for ill.

If you have had great experience with a vendor I’ve failed to mention, please tell me in the comments section.  I’m always looking for great new nurseries to try!


Lycoris radiata, in its first season of bloom in our garden.

Lycoris radiata, in its first season of bloom in our garden.

The surprise spider lily, Lycoris radiata, is one of the beautiful surprises of autumn.  This lovely red lily appears quite suddenly, usually after a heavy rain.  In the southeastern United States is has earned the name, “Hurricane Lily” because it so often appears right after the heavy rains of a hurricane.  It is always a happy surprise to see its beautiful blossoms pop up out of the Earth.

September 24 2013 garden 023


This sterile bulb, native to Asia, has an interesting growth pattern.   It blooms in late August or September, over several days.


Oct. 2 2013 surprise lily 001

The bulbs divide and produce multiple bloom stalks over the years.  These bulbs don’t like to be disturbed once planted.  The flower is a surprise, partly because no foliage appears before the bloom.  After the flowers fade, the long, strap like leaves begin to appear; hanging around throughout the winter, and making food for the following season’s blooms.  The blooms and leaves rarely appear at the same time.

Although Lycoris radiata is native  to China, it has also been widely grown in Japan for centuries.

The first  bulbs came to the United States sometime in the 1850s.  Early sailors who visited Japan after it opened for trade with the United States brought them back and introduced them into American gardens.  Many sources credit Captain William Roberts with being the first to introduce Lycoris to North America.  Interested in botany, he is said to have brought home three Lycoris bulbs from his trip.   His wife, Lavinia, was an avid gardener with hundreds of roses in her garden, and they likely were a gift for her.  His personal diary, a transcript of which is in the archives at Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC, indicates that Captain Roberts may not have traveled to Japan until several years after the date given in most sources for his trip.

Most current cultivars of Lycoris radiata are hardy in zones 6-9.  Other Lycoris species and hybrids are hardy as far north as zone 4.  More complete information is available from Plant Delights Nursery near Raleigh, NC, which carries an extensive inventory of Lycoris bulbs.  Bulbs are also available from Easy To Grow Bulbs.


September 24 2013 garden 025

Lycoris should be planted in good soil, in a location with full to part sun, about 8” deep, and at least 6” apart.  Like daffodils, once planted, they can be expected to come back year after year.  Also like daffodils, Lycoris are extremely poisonous.  Deer, voles, rabbits, squirrels, and other hungry creatures leave them strictly alone.  This is another good plant for patches of sun in a forest garden, because they won’t be destroyed by the wildlife.  Although the plant is poisonous, Lycoris nectar is still an important late season food for nectar loving insects.

Lycoris  bloom most often after a heavy rain.  In a dry autumn, they may bloom late, or not at all.   Moist soil is important for good growth. Their unpredictability is part of their beauty.


This clump of Surprise Lily was already growing in the garden when we moved in.  It surprised and delighted us when it suddenly appeared that September, and continues to bring a smile each year it blooms.

This clump of Surprise Lily was already growing in the garden when we moved in. It surprised and delighted us when it suddenly appeared that September, and continues to bring a smile each year it blooms.


In fact, in Japan, they are planted around homes and rice paddies to keep mice away.  They are an important flower in Japan.  Not only do they signal the beginning of autumn, but they are important in family life.  Lycoris bulbs are often planted on the graves of loved ones as a sign of respect and love.  Lycoris features in several traditional folk tales based on the fact that the flowers and leaves are never present at the same time.  Although Lycoris are long lasting cut flowers, they are rarely used as cut flowers in Asia due to their association with death and separation.

Although Lycoris radiata are red, other Lycoris species and cultivars come in white, yellow, pink, orange, and light lavender.  All are hardy, easy to grow plants, which bring surprise and delight to an autumn day.

( Much appreciation to Perry Mathewes for giving additional information on Captain William Roberts, based on his reading of the transcript of Captain Roberts’s diary while he was curator of the gardens at Tryon Palace.)

All photos by Woodland Gnome

Hardy Begonias- “A Pass Along Plant”

Hardy Begonia growing among Creeping Jenny, ferns, and ivy.

Hardy Begonia growing among Creeping Jenny, ferns, and ivy.

Many years ago I heard about a hardy Begonia- a perennial Begonia which would spread to form  a large mound of beautiful foliage and delicate pink flowers every single year.  I looked for such a plant at nurseries for several years before finally finding a small pot one day at the McDonald Garden Center in Virginia Beach.  I was so excited to finally have one to try in my own garden.

Hardy Begonia was one of those legendary plants to me in those days- wonderful plants you hear about, but can rarely find for sale.  You had to “know someone” who would give you a start of this quintessential “pass along plant”.  This of course was before the days when we lived through the internet.  I was on the mailing list for more than a half dozen nursery catalogs, but didn’t see hardy Begonia offered from any of them.


This very large leaf hardy Begonia has grown from a little start a friend shared in spring 2019. It overwintered in its pot last winter and reappeared by late May.  The Begonia behind it is B. ‘Sophia’


Finally, I planted my start, among some ferns, in a moist and shady bed beside the screened back porch of my home in suburban Virginia Beach.  What a treat to find it poking up underneath the winter litter of leaves each spring.  This plant not only spread each year underground, it also produces a small “bulb” at each leaf joint towards the end of summer.  Each of these tiny “bulbs” can sprout into a new plant.  These tend to get scattered about, and so hardy Begonia, after a season or two, begins to pop up in unexpected spots near the original patch.

These plants generally grow to about 2′ tall when growing in a moist, shaded area where they aren’t competing with many other plants.   They show up fairly late in the spring, but once up, grow quickly.  I would often find new plants popping up in  nearby beds and between the cracks of a brick walkway.  These shallow rooted plants can be easily moved to a spot where they can be allowed to grow.


Begonia grandis, perennial Begonias finally bloom by late summer.


Hardy Begonia, Begonia grandis, has a delicate, medium green leaf, often with red veins.  Though more delicate than most cane Begonia leaves, the Begonia grandis has a fairly large, elongated heart shaped leaf.  This tuberous begonia still grows tall canes just like a cane Begonia. Its flowers range from various shades of pink to white, and are usually found growing in a large graceful  panicle of flowers, much like cane Begonia flowers. The entire plant dies back to the ground with a heavy frost, but will grow again the following spring, usually larger than the previous year.

I dug and potted several pieces of my beautiful hardy Begonia before selling the Virginia Beach house and garden, and transplanted them that autumn into the Williamsburg forest garden.  Of course, I hadn’t realized yet how difficult the soil and conditions are here.  I was also unsure whether or not the Begonia would come back well here, since we’re a zone cooler.  Most hardy Begonias, it turns out, are hardy north to Zone 7b, though there are one or two varieties hardy to Zone 5.  What a wonderful day when I found the first leaves of the Begonia the following spring.


Hardy Begonia naturalizes in shady spots in the garden.  Spreading itself by bulbils and slowly colonizing spots where it is happy.


I had grown accustomed to the very large, healthy patch of Begonia which had taken hold over the years.  It was reliably 2′ tall and nearly filled the bed by the time I moved.  It bloomed from late June through frost, a dependable and hardy perennial, fed only with a topdressing of compost in early spring.

This little bit I moved has struggled  in its new spot on a hillside.  There were no “beds” in the shade when we moved into this garden in the midst of a drought in early August.  The little starts lingered in pots for weeks, and then I put them into the most protected shade area I could, where I planned to later develop a shade garden.  They spread a little more each year.  They haven’t yet achieved their lush 2′ potential, but they are blooming this year.


August 28 2013 garden 032~

Finally, this spring, I found hardy Begonia online at Plant Delights Nursery near Durham, NC.  They carry six different varieties of hardy Begonia, including the new Begonia heracleifolia ‘Nigricans’ , or “Hogweed-leaf Begonia.  Only four of the varieties bloom.  I finally settled on “Heron’s Pirouette”, a Begonia grandis with especially large, deep pink flowers.  It arrived last week in beautiful condition.



My plan is to prepare a good, raised bed for this, divisions of the Begonia I moved, and also a Begonia good friends gave me this week.

It seems they had some hardy Begonia growing in a pot on their deck last summer.  It overwintered in the pot and came back strong this year.  Suddenly, they realized that it was cropping up in an adjoining pot as well.  As I was admiring it, they offered a cutting, which I couldn’t resist.  That cutting became three pieces, dipped into rooting hormone, and set in a generous pot in the shade to take hold.


August 28 2013 garden 003


I’ve already promised one of these cuttings to a friend who has none, and I’ll give her a division from my original hardy Begonia as well.  This is such a wonderful “pass along plant’, passed between friends, moved between homes, linking one generation of gardeners to the next.



Woodland Gnome

updated January 2021


Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

Please visit and follow Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues to see all new posts since January 8, 2021.

A new site allows me to continue posting new content since after more than 1700 posts there is no more room on this site.  -WG

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 780 other subscribers
Follow Forest Garden on WordPress.com

Topics of Interest