Like skirt lengths and heel heights, flowers fall prey to the whims of fashion. A plant that one moment pleases everybody and her mother can scarcely be spotted the next. Take begonias, for instance. Indoors, in the 1960s and ’70s, no college dorm room was complete without at least one rainbow-leaved Rex (Begonia x rex-cultorum) dangling from a macrame hanger. Outdoors, walkways, window boxes, and planters lined with small-leaved wax begonias (B. x semperflorens-cultorum) in vivid reds and pinks stood as living advertisements for the family Begoniaceae.
Then, quite suddenly, these versatile ornamentals entered horticultural obsolescence. Why? Perhaps the begonia’s association with Victorian carpet bedding (now considered by many gardeners to be the apex of bad taste) had something to do with the fall from grace, but unfairly so: The foot-tall hybrids commonly used today for bedding were in fact too large and colorful for the (more…)