Ballarat Begonia Festival to debut never-before-seen begonia

The City of Ballarat’s team behind the impressive begonia displays at the annual Ballarat Begonia Festival will debut a never-before-seen begonia flower at this years’ festival.

The brand-new begonia cultivar, which was bred by the Gardens and Nursery team at the Ballarat Botanical Gardens, is named after the Gardens’ inaugural curator George Longley.

The highly anticipated colour of the Begonia George Longley will be unveiled at the festival.

Cultivating new breeds of begonia

The Ballarat Botanical Gardens team are no strangers to developing new cultivars of begonia, having released two other new begonia cultivars in recent years.

The latest begonia to be released is the Begonia George Longley. It was bred from two existing cultivars within the Ballarat Botanical Gardens Collection by Erin Brennan and Sheree Blood. The ‘parent’ cultivars were chosen for specific flower qualities.

The other two begonias previously bred in-house at the gardens include a Begonia ‘Peter Marquand’ named after recently retired Curator Peter Marquand, and Begonia ‘Lady B’ named for Erin and Sheree – both of whose last names begin with ‘B’.

City of Ballarat Curator Gardens and Nursery, Donna Thomas said the gardens’ practice of breeding begonias had arisen out of curiosity, and because importing plants had become increasingly difficult.

“Traditionally, we have imported begonias from the UK,” she said.

“However, we weren’t seeing a lot of variation we were looking for – such as unique colours, flower forms or scent that we don’t currently have in the collection.”

Experimenting with breeding their own begonias was the logical next step for Ms Thomas and her team, which also has some added bonuses.

“Breeding our own begonias also reduces the risk of accidently bringing pests in – it protects our current collection and enriches the uniquely Ballarat identity within the collection,” Ms Thomas said.

Honouring the gardens’ first curator

Ms Thomas and her team chose to name their newest begonia after George Longley because they wanted to honour the legacy George had left behind after his 41 years as Curator in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens.

“Whilst George didn’t design the gardens, he implemented the original design of the gardens, much of which was from the original plan,” Ms Thomas said.

“He oversaw the building of the original fernery and the statue pavilion, the arrival of the Stoddard marble statues, he would have planted the Giant Redwood Avenue, and much of the path work that you see today would have been done by George.

“George is around us everywhere in the gardens.”

City of Ballarat Councillor Samantha McIntosh said naming a new begonia after George Longley was a fantastic way to honour his legacy.

“The Ballarat Botanical Gardens have been a source of pride for Ballarat residents since their inception in 1858. It is only right that we honour George Longley for his significant contributions to the gardens,” she said.

“I very much look forward to the unveiling of Begonia ‘George Longley’ at the Ballarat Begonia Festival this year and I know the community will be very eager to see just what colour it turns out to be.”

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