The National Begonia Society



On the road again
Michael Richardson
Visit to Ian Donaldson & Phil Champion

I will start this article by apologizing for it being late, but I got waylaid with work and by my plants demands.

Sunday 23rd June
This trip to Ian Donaldson’s and Phil Champion’s has now become one of our annual pilgrimages north of the border that we do every June – rumour has it that we only do it for the full cooked breakfast by Linda Donaldson and afternoon tea by Judy Champion – there could be a grain of truth to this as you will hear about later in this article.

Ian & Lynda Donaldson’s
We arrived for about 10am on what we thought was Ian Donaldson’s road but straight away we sensed something was amiss, so Dodgy Dave jumped out of the car and started walking around the houses looking for Ian's house however we realized pretty quickly it was the next street along. It did not take a genius long to realize that it would not be long before a home owner woke up only to find some dodgy looking character lurking on their driveway and call the boys in blue…. So we got Dave back in the car and made a quick escape from that street and on to the next one where we found Phil Champion's blue van parked outside.

After a fantastic full cooked breakfast by Lynda Donaldson and a lot of friendly banter we went out to look at these plants that we have seen a lot about already since Ian is documenting his growing year via a diary on the National Begonia Societies Website

Now I am not going to go into Ian’s growing techniques as he is very kindly doing this year’s Cultural Diary on our Society's website.
Not only that but he has also said if anyone had any questions then he would only be too happy to answer then through the National Begonia Society Facebook page – Myself and Phil Champion both agreed that we were amazed that no one has really took him up on this offer.

Take for example where he wrote that he potted up 2x1litre pots into a 7.5 litre pot – that’s 5.5 litres of fresh compost, I thought someone would have queried that especially when you are “taught” that you are only supposed to pot into a pot that has roughly a finger width gap all the way round.

The controversy that’s been created with Ian trying to grow different varieties has amazed me – All through my working life the one word that always scares people is change.

He is only trying to do something a little different – I must admit two different plants in one pot could look a little offset – now for example - two dark colour plants at the back like Tigger and a Monica Bryce in the front, how can that not be visual stimulating to not only a grower but a member of the general public. It has to be better than just a single colour, hasn’t it – well that’s my “two penny worth” on this highly controversial issue – the picture A to the left shows developing plant of this.

Ian took a bud off one of his pot plants to show us that his pot plant buds were allowed to develop into cut bloom size flower buds – so instead of for example a normal pot plant carrying 20+ small flowers Ian wants less flowers but a plant full of 9inch cut bloom size flowers from the top to the bottom off the plant.
Below in the picture to the left you can see the 3 of us looking at the bud he took off, in the picture below right I would like to show you who kept the flower bud and the rumor from Southport is he tried to root it when he got home but failed.


Now below are some epic looking pot plants running from left to right:

      1.    A view of his main greenhouse showing his Pot Plants and some cut bloom plants.
Pot Plants.
A picture showing a pot plant of Symestar and a pot plant of a seedling.


Where do I start with plants he is growing as cut blooms – they must be some of the best looking cut bloom plants I have seen grown for a long time.

Please see the pictures below running from left to right of some of his plants being grown for cut blooms:

      1. & 2.    A selection of his cut blooms.
A plant Powder Puff.
Moira Callan.


 At last - see below a picture of Ian’s new seedling - Emma Louise – well in bud stage anyway but you can get a good idea how rich it will look colour wise. 

In the picture L to the left you can see some drums holding a liquid, when you looked in them the liquid had what looked like a faint blue hue to it. We asked in what he was feeding them and he replied nothing and that it was plain water, so after a bit of lively debate we said alright if its water dip your finger in and taste it so he did. So I tasted as well and got Terry Tasker to try it as well, and I am afraid to say no secret ingredients just plain water – but we did have a good laugh whilst doing it.


Now the picture  below shows two dodgy characters (Terry to the left and Dave’s camera on the right) trying to catch Ian with his secret ingredient but failed miserably so we just putting it down to Ian’s “cultural proficiency” – that’s a term Ian coined and used the other year during one of his Food for Thought talks / lectures.

The pictures below running from left to right show:

      1.    Ian’s propagating greenhouse.
Full inside view.
Specimen seedlings to left.
Specimen seedlings to the right.


  To end the first part of this article - Another point of contention

Now some growers say that you should not grow on tiered staging but a single level close to the ground, well when you look at Ian Donaldson’s plants whether it’s his Pot Plants & Single Stem cut bloom plants then I think that who could argue that point that it does not matter as long as there is sufficient height to the greenhouse and a gap between the plants and the side of the greenhouse.

Then it was a good twenty minute drive to Phil Champions, once again Phil had set off first that left us following Ian “the flying Scot” Donaldson – for most of the trip I thought his brake lights were not working until we went through a small village with a 30 mile and speed limit and if by magic they worked, however once we got through the village he was gone again.

 Phil & Judy Champions
Now if you have seen Phil Champion's posts on the National Begonia Society Facebook he has been brutally honest with how the cold has affected his leafs on top, however underneath they looked normal and as Phil said he is showing the flower and not the leaf:

      1.    Plants mostly earmarked for Dundee.
Plants mostly earmarked for Shrewsbury Flower show.
Some pot plants being allowed to flower.
Phil and Dave inspecting the plants closely.


Whilst Phil and Dave were inspecting the finer points of the plants – Ian Donaldson, Robert Bryce and Terry Tasker were outside relaxing in the sun as you can see in the picture below

Phil already had some good looking hanging baskets in flower :

      1.    La Madelon.
Truffle Cream.
Golden Showers and Winter Moon which was just coming into flower.


Now one flower that did stand out on just colour alone was a plant of Midas which was just beginning to open – and what a vivid yellow it was. I know it’s an old variety but still has to be one of the best yellows colour wise still being grown. I thought I had taken a photo of it but all I could find was a group picture I had taken so I will apologise for the quality of the picture on the left below but I have tried to blow it up a bit – What amazed me more was how close Dave Weatherby and myself were for asking for a “cutting” of it but never did – oh and I have placed a picture below left of Dave Weatherby highlighting the colour of Midas again just to his right.


Myself and Terry, left Phil and Dave in the main greenhouse, Ian and Robert basking in the sun – whilst we went in to his “propagating greenhouse” to have a mooch around. The pictures running from left to right below show you what he had growing:

      1.    Full view of the inside of this greenhouse.
View of the right hand side of this greenhouse showing his late starters.
View of the left hand side, in the middle are batch of little propagator units housing cuttings that are being protected from the
 heat by being covered by a layer of newspaper. At the bottom of this bench were some cane varieties and at the other end some rex’s

There was also a small plant of Red Flamboyant and by the look of it Phil is close to getting pollen from it, as he is dabbling hybridizing hanging basket type begonias.


Terry was looking at the rex’s when Phil said he could help himself to what he wanted with regards the canes & rex’s as he was trying to cut back on the numbers he was growing.

      1.    Showing Terry inspecting them.
Choosing them.
A picture showing his ill-gotten gains.


Judy Champion called us all down to the patio for dinner and once again we were spoilt rotten and to top it we had a choice of strawberries and cream or homemade strawberry cream sponge cake for desert –  it was at this point we found out that one of our party had an “addiction” to strawberries and cream as he had not only a bowl of strawberries and cream but a slab of cake on top of it as well – but not x1 helping but x3 helpings as you can see by the x3 pictures taken by Phil Champion below.


Now if any of you out there remember the film – Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory where Violet Beauregarde turns into a giant blueberry well we thought that Dave Weatherby would turn into a giant strawberry – but alas he never……

After another walk round we made are farewells to Phil and Judy Champion and started on our 3hr drive back to Robert's house.

Once again I will finish with a picture of Dodgy Dave overdosed on strawberries fast asleep counting strawberries jumping over fences whilst the rest of us chatted on the way home.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ian & Lynda Donaldson / Phil & Judy Champion for a fantastic day out.

                                      Until next time….



Articles by Michael Richardson
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