Our New Cleome Garden

This summer at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, we are focusing our educational programming on pollinators. We have some fun and vivacious plants scheduled for the gardens. One of the ideas we had was to plant an entire area of Cleome or spider flower. We just adore these summer annuals from South America as they draw in swarms of butterflies, bees, and birds.

Cleome-Senorita Rosalita 1

(Ok, I have to hit the brakes… I’m only kidding. This was my response to Rochelle’s post on Cleome yesterday. We do have a small patch of C. ‘Senorita Rosalita’ on the drawing board.)

Begonia boliviensis

Now onto my real plant of the week which is also a flowering machine from South America. (Please, please, please, Rochelle do not hate this one as well.) I was looking for a plant that could provide a bright punch for a slightly shaded border near the front entry doors of CMBG. My boss wondered if I had considered a Begonia. I was using Begonia ‘Whopper Red’ nearby so another Begonia would be a nice fit. After some digging, we came up with Begonia boliviensis. We had used B. boliviensis ‘Bonfire’ in the past so I started searching for other cultivars. This is when I came across B. ‘Santa Cruz Sunset.’ Oooh, I was sold at the name. My spiritual animal is a California surf dude like Jeff Spicoli so sunsets over the Pacific from Santa Cruz sounded appealing, especially during this Maine winter.

Begonia boliviensis in general, likes the soil and air to be warm in order to really grow and flower. We will not plant ours out until well after Memorial Day. By then, hopefully, the soil temperatures will be above 65 and our night temperatures will not be below the mid-low 50’s. As the summer warms, these plants do take off like a bonfire, producing large, 2″ long, tuberous flowers until frost. B. ‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ appears to be a heavier flowering selection with more red in its flowers. B. ‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ is a seed strain so it can be grown directly from seed rather than cuttings. And like Rochelle’s beloved Cleome, Begonia boliviensis is a hummingbird magnet.


The leaves on Begonia boliviensis differ than what might first come to your mind. The leaves are long and narrow, with slightly wavy edges. If you plant these plants in late spring/early summer, expect an 18-24″ mound by the end of summer. Their drooping growth habit works well in a container or hanging basket. Also, you can dig these plants up in the fall and store them in a cool, dry shed or basement, as you would a canna or banana. Let the plants go totally dry and dormant and they should emerge the following spring. Begonia boliviensis is native to high altitude areas of the Andes in Bolivia and Argentina so they can survive periods of a dry dormancy.

Have you grown ‘Bonfire,’ ‘Santa Cruz Sunset,’ or any of the Bolivian begonias before?


P.S. – sorry, Rochelle, for the Cleome jab.

Images: University of MinnesotaBenary Seed

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rodney eason

Rodney Eason - Director of Horticulture and Plant Curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, father of 4, husband to a Renaissance woman. I spent the first part of my life in North Carolina, the middle in Pennsylvania, and now I am determined to become a Mainer  while keeping my southern drawl. I consider the rhetorical question, "you're not from around here, are you?" a compliment. I love great gardens, beautiful plants, and inspiring architecture. Because of this, I am on a lifelong quest to find a garden that artistically combines beautiful plants while being centered around an evocative building. For me, this would be Beatrix Farrand's Dumbarton Oaks, with the plants of Lotusland and Chanticleer, around Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. My wife and I are now making our new home and garden in a 130 year old New England house with a farmer's porch near the Damariscotta River in coastal Maine. When our kids get into college, we want to hike the Appalachian Trail as a family over a summer break. My likes (in random order): the smell of fresh basil and rosemary, bold foliage, India Pale Ale, good running shoes, Top Gear, the smell of New England in the fall (it reminds me a bit of English Leather, which my grandfather wore), and the sound of our family laughing together around the dinner table. I dream of one day owning an old Toyota 4X4 pick-up and seeing the Avett Brothers in concert.
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  1. rochelle on February 26, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Ha Ha Rodney 😉 – But I am glad you aren’t planning a strictly cleome garden…sounds a bit boring.

    • rodneyeason on February 26, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      Cleome. We could add pansies? And petunias?

  2. rochelle on February 28, 2014 at 7:49 am

    Rodney – you are such a tease…I mean really, Cleome, pansies and petunias…sounds like the best garden evah!

  3. Jeck on March 3, 2014 at 6:24 am

    Spider flowers are amazing and is only an annual. Once temperature warm up in summer it zooms to 4 feet and produces large balls of flowers.

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