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Home > Begonian > Volume 66 (November/December 1999, page 61)

California Daydreaming
by Mary Elizabeth Moultrie

When we heard that the 1999 ABS Convention was to be held in southern California, my husband Eddie and I wanted to attend, but we had already planned a two week visit to California in September 1998. As much as we longed to attend, we knew that we could not make two trips to California within a year's time. Then we had the good fortune to not only share the table with Rudy at the luncheon that was given in his honor in Santa Barbara but also to share the table with Jeanne Jones and Iris Bird. Jeanne started telling us about Lotusland that had already been reserved as a tour for ABS. How could we miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to see such a spectacular garden? As my mind wandered off into the fantasy of wondering if such a place could exist, Jeanne started saying that we were also going to the Getty Museum. As an architect, Eddie has spent twelve years wondering about this great architectural accomplishment and then there was the garden as well as the art. We were weakening.

Then, Iris started telling me about her and Bob's yard. Were her plants as spectacular as my mind started to imagine? Would we get to see for ourselves? We had heard of the legendary California begonia growers; so maybe my mind was not creating an exaggeration. Before the dessert arrived, Eddie and I knew that in less than a year we would be back in Califomia and that there would be spectacular and wondrous tours for us to enjoy. When the registration information arrived, there was no doubt that we would sign up for every tour. And oh what an incredible time we had!

On the first day of the convention, we board the bus for our trip back to Santa Barbara and Lotusland. There was much anticipation about Lotusland, and then we pulled up to a small house in Ventura. Part of the day's activities would be to stop at Pam Hantgin's for lunch and to tour her garden. All thoughts of Lotusland ceased as we rounded the comer of her house and were awe struck by the magic that was Pam's back yard. There were begonias and fuchsias and streptocarpus growing everywhere. The overhead was a mass of hanging baskets in all the colors of the rainbow. And this was an individual's yard! I immediately told Eddie not to tell me ever again that I have too many plants; and also immediately, I started to think of what might be possible. To help the dream along, Pat had ' plants for us to buy. While we looked at her prizewinners, we could have the possibility of having one of our own. There was a delicious lunch and Lotusland was ahead; but for me, I did not need to eat or to go further. This was a good as it gets. But the bus beckoned; we were off to Lotusland. My daydreams of it were now dimmed because I did not believe that it was possible to enjoy anything any more than I had enjoyed Pam's yard. Lotusland would probably be anticlimatic. What could there be that would be better than this?

Upon our arrival at Lotusland, a gracious hostess and an informative guide greeted us. He would lead us on our walking tour. Even as we started down the drive, my mind was still marveling over Pat's yard. And then in the distance the tall stately and magical lotus appeared. Who has not loved this mythical plant and longed to have one of our very own? All of a sudden, we knew that we were in the presence of something to be revered. Our guide stated that the blooms were starting to fade since the height of their bloom season is in July and August. But with their majestic leaves and magical seed pods, there did not have to be many blooms for us to be spellbound; and just beyond the lotus pond, there were two water lily ponds - one for tropical water lilies and the other for hardy water lilies.

Then there was the succulent garden, the cactus garden, the cycad garden, the rose garden, the house and patio and so much more. This was after all the garden of a very rich person; and if she daydreamed about it, she usually got it.

One of her dreams was of begonias, and there were very large beds with mass plantings of begonias, fems, and tropical plants. But of course the one begonia that we all wanted to see was B. 'Lotusland'. And what a begonia it is! It has one of the largest leaves that I have ever seen. Would it be possible for me to own one of these begonias? It seems only fitting that it be the perfect souvenir ot our visit. Where could I find one? Maybe there would be one at the plant sale.

Madame Walska's yard was quite spectacular indeed, but it was not the thing for the ordinary person to daydream about. While her gardens would certainly be unattainable for me, there was still the dream of Pam's garden and somehow, I would get to have B. 'Lotusland.' After we left Lotusland, we headed back into the town of Santa Barbara and up a quiet street where we were greeted by Rudolf Ziesenhenne himself.

He was ready to take us into his green houses. How many times have we been there in our mind's eye? B. 'Freddie' was created there as was B. 'Lotusland'. The daydream of being in the place where so much research and the working with and the growing of begonias had taken place was overwhelming. My dream of getting B. 'Freddie' would come true. Everyone in the group seemed to have this as a favorite, and it was such a privilege to buy it from its creator. We wanted to stay for hours with Rudy to garner some of his invaluable knowledge of our favorite plant. Without Rudy's care and conservation, the begonia population would be greatly diminished, and there was a great sense of pride being in his presence in his green houses. That was the ending of our first day.

On Thursday, we boarded the buses and headed south. We were on our way to Michael Kartuz's greenhouses and Weidner's Garden. I had been to Michael's last year and my mind was filled with many memories. Would it be as I had remembered it or had my daydreams embellished it? As soon as I entered the first greenhouse, I knew that it was even better than I had remembered. All of the begonias and streptocarpus and achimenes that we read about and daydream about in Michael's catalog were there, and not only could we see them but we could also buy them. The challenge was the decision. At one time or another I have wanted all of them.

One of the first things that I reached for was a yellow tuberous begonia. For a moment, I held it; but with so many other choices, I knew that that would be a dream that could not last. Tuberous begonias do not like Atlanta, Georgia; and for its own sake, I must leave it there. Or perhaps, I should say that I should leave it for some one else to have the dream of owning. I did see that begonia getting on the bus.

Because I was trying to temper my daydreams with a bit of reality, I knew that it would be impossible for me to make purchases at Weidner's Gardens. Their plants were larger than large. They were huge and most of their begonias were the tuberous kind. I have never seen so many and ones that were so large. These were the rainbow colors that were hanging overhead at Pam's, but I knew from many, many attempts that there was absolutely no way that they would grow for me. I wanted those begonias; but with so many canes and rhizomatous and thick stems, one could not afford to be sad. And tonight we would be visiting more yards of members so maybe I could see more things that I could relate to.

At Lotusland...


B. 'Mrs. Fred D. Scrips'

B. tomentosaB. 'Mrs. Fred D. Scrips', above, B. angularis in bloom, below, and B. tomentosa using a stake are only examples of the begonias Mary Bucholtz caught on film at Lotusland.

b. angularis

Plan on joining Mary Elizabeth next month to continue your Begonia Kaleidoscopes tours in California as she moves on to the homes of Brad Thompson, Iris Bird and Bob Golden, and Ruth and Walter Pease before she and Eddie finally get to the Fern Show and the Getty Museum as well.

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