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Home > Begonian > Volume 70 (September/October 2003, pages 165 - 170)
Convention 2003 -- Our Begonia Heritage
April 23-27 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
by Janet Brown

We came from all over the United States on Tuesday, April 22, to celebrate our begonia heritage and were warmly welcomed in true Oklahoma style by the wonderful members of the Fred A. Barkley Branch of the American Begonia Society.

The Tours:

After a pleasant journey, the Happy Hour, an excellent dinner, a good night's sleep and a great Embassy Suites breakfast, we set off at 7:30 am Wednesday for the long awaited tour to northern Oklahoma and the fabulous Salisbury Greenhouse. The skies were threatening but we had a great driver and we arrived in good time at Tonkawa. The greenhouse although quite large is so packed full of gorgeous begonias that we had to go in groups of ten. While waiting we were treated to Ann & Gene's beautiful home with refreshments and lots of talk. The greenhouse was worth waiting for. There is an amazing eclectic collection of begonias from rare and exotic species to the latest hybrids.

We could not imagine seeing a better collection, nor a more beautifully grown one. After a very pleasant time oohing and aahing we had to leave and went on to a delicious lunch at Northern Oklahoma College. The rain had started so we just got a glance at the gardens and then went on to Ponca City where we visited the Pioneer Woman Museum with the lovely statue in the square before it. The statue was a gift to the city and Oklahoma from E.W. Marland, an oil baron, who at one time controlled 10% of all the oil reserves in the world! His mansion, built in 1925 at a cost of $2.5 million, was our next stop. You leave the plains of Oklahoma and enter Europe-a lovely Italianate structure of 43,000 square feet with 55 rooms. It was a delight to see. By the time we left the rain was beginning in earnest and during the trip back we were in the capable hands of our excellent driver. It poured and the traffic increased as we neared the capital but no tornadoes, just thunder and lightening. A lovely day in spite of that.

Myriad Gardens Johanna Zinn shares with us a view at left of the jungle area of Oklahoma's Myriad Gardens. Many of these rhizomatous begonias there originated in the greenhouse of Gene Salisbury of which we see just the front quarter in Johanna's next photo. For many this visit to the Salisbury's was one of the favorite activities offers in teh 2003 Convention.
front quarter of Salisbury's greenhouse

Thursday: We got up a little later for this one but it was also a very full day. Our first stop was TLC Nursery where we had plenty of time to shop and check out the variety of plants available in OKC. The staff had refreshments waiting for us and couldn't have been nicer. From there we went to the Cowboy Hall of Fame, actually the official name is National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. At the last convention in OKC in 1994 the banquet was held here and we were able to tour some of the galleries. However, it was still being built and it was quite a surprise to find a very large complex with many galleries and displays, including a whole western town. There is a large park with Remington's 'Comin' Thru the Rye' and 'Buffalo Bill' by Leonard McMurry dominating. The gardens are lovely with other sculptures and several monuments to famous horses and rodeo bulls as well as the cowboys. And of course their most famous work the spectacular and moving "End of the Trail" by James Earle Fraser has its own very special spot dominating the main entrance. The museum also has a very nice restaurant that we all enjoyed. Next stop was the Dutch Forest Gardens. It is rather difficult to describe this place. It is a very posh suburb of OKC with very large homes and lots. The home we visited had a most magnificent garden that was more like a park with a large pond and trails through the trees. It is a test garden for the Daylily Society so there were lots of day lillies and many other plants as well, including begonias.

Another lovely day with no rain.

Friday: This was a 'day on our own'. We tried to clerk at the show but weren't needed so we headed downtown to the National Memorial and a day we will never forget. We thought about an hour would be needed, instead it was three and it was hard to leave even then. The bombing of the Murrah Building took place on April 19, 1995 just eleven months after the '94 convention. We were there almost eight years later.

First you enter the outside memorial with the chairs and the shallow reflecting pool and two high stone walls at either end. One says 9:01 and the other 9:03. The bomb went off at 9:02. The museum is in a building directly opposite to where the Murrah Building stood and it was heavily damaged in the blast.

It just reopened in 2001 and the museum in 2002. Buildings in the blocks around are obviously new or in the process of rebuilding. The site is flanked by a church on either side. These were damaged also but stood. You enter the museum and start the tour on the 3rd floor. The first exhibit is an ordinary day in Oklahoma City, the Festival of Arts was going on and it was a perfectly normal morning. At the end of this exhibit you wait to enter a room that takes only 10 people at a time. Once inside you sit and listen to a tape recording of a meeting that was going on that morning in the Water Resources Office.

Suddenly there is a tremendous explosion, the tape rolls on with the sounds of confusion, screams, disbelief at what has happened. The doors at the other end of the room open and you are in the midst of the chaos. You see cases of twisted watches, keys, glasses; life size photos of the rubble and destruction; you hear stories of those who survived and those who lost relatives and friends. There is one room that has been glassed in that has been left just as it was that morning, completely destroyed, the ceiling collapsed, the walls open.

As you go through the rooms you are taken through the investigation and the arrest and trial of McVeigh and the others responsible. But mostly the focus is on the people who were killed and injured and their families. Just when you think you have seen everything and cried your last tear there is a circular room lined with little glass cases. Each contains a picture of a victim, 168 in all, and something that was dear to them-a doll, teddy bear, race car. That was the hardest to take and the most moving. Outside again you visit the Survivor Tree that was badly damaged in the blast but has come back and the Survivor Wall with the names of the 800 who got through it although not unscathed.

They say the memorial chairs and plaza are incredibly beautiful at night. We didn't get to see it at night but will always remember it: "MAY ALL WHO LEAVE HERE KNOW THE IMPACT OF VIOLENCE".


#1 On Wednesday evening we met Mark Tebbitt, a charming young man from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Mark is a cultural taxonomist who has worked at the Glasgow Botanic Garden. He spends half his time on begonia research and half writing a book on the DNA of begonias. His talk was most interesting on species and what prevents species from hybridizing. He had an excellent slide presentation with interesting pictures, including electron microscope shots of begonia seed. He also spoke about preserving our species and said that 64 begonias are listed as endangered at this point though there may actually be many more in peril. We are looking forward to the publication of his book, possibly next year and hearing much more from this young begonia scientist.

I should mention that there was a bit of projector trouble at the beginning and Rekha Morris filled in for a few minutes telling her story of the latest trip to Mexico in April. (Don't miss the great article in the May/June Begonian on her collecting trip last December). Husband Michael had a bad fall while collecting with Rekha this time. He slipped on a hillside and went down 15 feet clutching the precious bag of specimens as he fell. The accident was just two weeks before the convention and he was still in a lot of pain and using a cane for the injured hip but at least no broken bones.

#2: On Thursday night we had a delightful hour with our friend Mike Flaherty from Montecito. Westchester launched his brilliant career and his seminar in OKC was even better. It was a great tour of the mansions of Montecito and how to use begonias when you have endless money. Despite the great entertainment of his talk and slide show we should recognize how much he is doing to show off our beloved begonias by using them as dramatic and glorious landscape plants.

#3: Mary Fuqua followed with a wonderful, in every sense of the word, talk on growing the species and natural hybrids found in Indonesia by Scott Hoover and herself on their expeditions. Sadly the one planned for this year has had to be postponed due to the political situation but hopefully will be rescheduled next year. There is much to be done. In the meantime the job of growing on the seed brought back from these trips is a full time job. Mary grows in her basement as well as at the New England Tropical Conservatory and told of the difficulty of keeping the specimens going and trying to get them to flower. B. robustais a beauty, very variable in color and growth, some green some beautiful shades of deep red and magenta. B. rohusta has never flowered in captivity. So if you are growing it from the Hoover seed and it flowers shout it out!

Mary would like to see these collected species grown in their home country and then distributed to other parts of the world. This would help to stem the habitat loss and preserve those endangered species. A great and enlightening talk from this amazing woman.

#4: On Saturday morning the seminars continued. First was a panel of hybridizers including Michael Kartuz, Kathy Goetz, Charles McGough & chaired by Gene Salisbury. We saw some lovely new plants and learned some of the secrets not all-of these creative, patient, perfectionist people who add to our begonia world. Afterwards some of the plants were auctioned off. The star was a Kartuz that went for over $120.00! (Yes, he has more and will be sure we get some for our show.) This was a great opportunity to announce our show this summer honoring Mike's hybrids and that was done to great applause.

#5: There are few people who know more about begonias and collecting them in the wild than Kathleen Burt-Utley. This charming lady has been everywhere searching for begonias along with her husband who is a world famous expert in bromeliads. She gave a slide show of a recent trip to Oaxaca and the Sierra Madre. One showed a very big pig wallowing in a huge rut in the road just an example of the difficulties faced in exploring these out of the way regions.

The reward for us is the collection of old and new species, preserving and studying them. Burt-Utley is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, University of New Orleans.

#6: The last seminar was a fabulous trip to Australia by Don Miller. He attended the 2002 Australian Begonia Society convention and showed pictures of the glorious gardens he visited as well as some photos from past trips. There are no known species of begonia found in Australia but there may be some chance of finding them in the York Peninsula which is in the north and very close to New Guinea. The next Aussie Convention is 2005 in Melbourne/Ballarat.


What a great show it was. The September/October Begonian will have a complete list with lots of pictures of the glorious plants. Best In Show was a magnificent B. roxburghii grown by Diana Wilkerson who also had many other beautiful plants in the show. Charles Jaros drove from Florida with 15 beauties to enter. And Gene Salisbury had many beautiful entries without making a dent in his greenhouse.

B. roxburghii B. holtonis
Species rule the day! Top left is Dianna Wilkerson's Best of show winner B.roxburghii and right is her Division Winner B. holtonis. Below right is Charles Jaros' amazing Best Species and Best Division Winner B. U404 and below left is Dianna Wilkerson's Division Winner B. soli-mutata.
B. soli-mutata B. U404


Incredible and the usual madhouse.They really had a tremendous selection of the rare and wonderful and the Friday night receipts were quite amazing. We all bought a lot, some more than others, and we should be seeing some of these lovely things in the next few months at the summer shows. Credit goes to Wanda & Richard Macnair who were in charge of the plant sale.

They did a magnificent job.


President Morris Mueller presided over the ABS meeting on Saturday afternoon, following a lovely luncheon. Time and space do not permit the meeting report in this issue but I will try to have a report at the meeting.

It was a shame that our National Director Ramona Parker could not be at the convention due to poor health, however we hear that she is doing better now and will hopefully get to the next big meeting at the Southwest Region Get-Together in August in Dallas. The convention is just not the same without Ramona.

Two things to mention before the full report: Parliamentarian Marge Lee has resigned her position after many, many years. Pres. Mueller read her letter of resignation at the meeting and many tears were shed. However, the position, a very important one, has been awarded to Ann Salisbury and who can think of a better or more qualified person.

Second major announcement: The 2004 Convention will be held in late August in San Diego and will be sponsored by the San Diego branches and cochaired by Michael Ludwig & Dean Turney. Much more news on this great event will be coming.


Delicious food, lovely table decorations and programs, absolutely superb Master of Ceremonies Tim O'Reilly. Our beloved Thelma O'Reilly was taken ill on Friday night and had to be hospitalized at 4:00 am. Despite her sudden illness she insisted that Tim carry on and carry on he did. Thelma was released on Sunday and they were able to get home where she is recuperating and doing very well. We missed her! Morris Mueller gave a short but moving speech. Ann Salisbury received a special award for her work on the convention and for many years service to the ABS.

The other ABS awards were given as follows: Rudolf Ziesenhenne Award to Freda Holley, Begonian Editor; Alfred D. Robinson Medal of Honor for a begonia cultivar to B. 'Cowardly Lion'/ Kit Jeans Mounger, hybridizer; Eva Kenworthy Gray Award to Cheryl Lenert; and the Herbert P. Dyckman Award to Janet Brown. The awards were presented by Awards Chairman Michael Ludwig and as always his remarks were moving and deeply appreciated.

In closing we must all thank Convention Chairmen Ann & Gene Salisbury and the Convention Committee for a marvelous, happy, begonia filled 5 days in Oklahoma City. They are the greatest and really know how to make you feel welcome.

Our begonia spirit has been recharged while meeting with our friends, old and new. We wish you all could have been with us to celebrate our passion for begonias and the people who help them grow to brighten our lives.

Hope you will do it again soon, Oklahoma, and we'll see you in San Diego next year.

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