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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: The hunt for the elusive Champagne

Ever since losing her prized Champagne begonias to frost, gardening expert Helen Chesnut has been on the hunt for hanging basket begonias that are as beautiful and prolific.

Just as gardeners were thinking they were out of the winter woods, the deceptive month of February threw us a chilly curve. Not so very surprising though. Looking back on the temperature records I keep, February last year brought five nights of significantly sub-zero temperatures in precisely the same week.

As we edge cautiously toward spring, it’s probably wise to be aware of how unpredictable the weather has become, and be ready to adjust and adapt to conditions as well as we can.

Mea culpa. Whenever I need a reminder that I’m a deeply flawed human being and gardener, I think of Champagne. Not the elegant drink, but the begonias of the same name that created curtains of fully double, creamy apricot flowers in hanging baskets across the shaded front of the house all summer and early autumn, for years, until one fateful late autumn.

When the top growth had died back and fallen away that year, I set the baskets against the house wall. At that point, it was my practice to unpot the tubers and pack them in vermiculite in shallow boxes for storing in the protection of a storeroom attached to the house. For whatever reason, that essential step was missed and the tubers froze.

Ever since, I’ve searched for hanging basket begonias that are as beautiful and prolific. The search has yielded very limited success.

Last year, I chose a few hanging basket begonia tubers at my nearest garden centre and planted them in a basket for hanging in a support structure on the path to the greenhouse. The plants filled the basket nicely, and stems draping down its sides were filled with blooms all summer, but the flower colour was somewhat uninspiring.

I also managed last spring to acquire a few tubers of a hanging basket (pendula) begonia named Odorata, which simply means fragrant. The tubers were from Lindenberg Seeds.

The plants turned out to be not so voluminous as Champagne, nor so packed with bloom, but the individual flowers were enchanting works of art in creamy apricot-pink, with a frilly ruff at the bloom centres. They did have a light, sweet scent.

On with the adventure this year. I scoured through the begonias on the website of Botanus, a mail order source for plants and bulbs in Langley. There I found a photo of a begonia that looked rather like my beloved and sadly neglected Champagne. It is Splendida Apricot. The website promises large, double, apricot-orange blooms that will cascade over the sides of hanging baskets. We’ll see.


Seedy Sunday. Nanaimo Foodshare, in collaboration with Nanaimo Community Gardens, is hosting a Seedy Sunday event tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Beban Centennial Building, 2300 Bowen Rd. in Nanaimo. This community event promotes seed saving, local seed providers, eco-friendly makers, gardening and environmental organizations. Free educational workshops will focus on growing local food.

VHS meeting. The Victoria Horticultural Society will meet on Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Garth Homer Centre, 813 Darwin Ave. Solara Goldwynn, food systems manager of the kitchen garden at Royal Roads University, will speak about edible landscapes in the small urban garden.” Masks are required in the Garth Homer Centre. Drop-in fee for non-members $5.

Nanaimo meeting. The Nanaimo Horticultural Society will meet on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in First Unitarian Fellowship Hall, 595 Townsite Rd. Colin Barnard from the Backyard Wildbird and Nature Store will be the evening’s speaker.

Floral arts. The Mid Island Floral Art Club will meet on Thursday at 2 p.m. in St. Stephen’s Church hall, 150 Village Way in Qualicum Beach. The topic for the afternoon is designs with a structure. Guests are welcome. Information at

Bonsai demonstration. Dinter Nursery, 2205 Phipps Rd. in Duncan, is offering a Bonsai Re-potting Demonstration on Saturday, March 11, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. The nursery’s resident bonsai expert will demonstrate re-potting a Japanese maple. The event is free, with no registration required. The demonstration will last from 10 to 11 a.m. Bring your specimens and questions for discussion between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. Dress warmly. The event will be in an unheated greenhouse.

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