This glow-in-the-light begonia is the perfect bathroom plant

There was a moment in lockdown when a rare Aroid could fetch thousands of dollars from housebound collectors willing to pay almost anything for one of nature’s wonders. Artist and grower, Neva Hosking recognised the moment, sold one of her horti treasures and used the funds to build a greenhouse for her new love: begonias.

The begonias are arrayed in the greenhouse among the aroids of Hosking’s previous affair, displayed on stools and plant stands and framed by the gold and red trumpets of the Indian clock vine draping itself over the doorway.

Artist Neva Hosking collects rare begonias in her greenhouse.Credit:Edwina Pickles

There are more than 20,000 species of begonia, making it one of the largest genera of flowering plants on the planet, but it is not the flowers that pierce the heart of the true ‘begoniac’, it is the intricacy of the texture, patterning and shape of the leaves. Here in Hosking’s greenhouse are velvety, furry, shiny, dimpled, and metallic leaves, in shades from lime to black and silver, with contrasting veins, spots and markings.

Hosking’s art practice has had plants at its centre since lockdown. Her March 2022 solo show at N. Smith Gallery in Paddington was called The Last Garden on Loftus Crescent and featured ink drawings of her plants on vintage graph paper. The grids of the paper emphasise the effect of looking through a glasshouse window at leaves entwined against the glass.

Hosking’s particular love is not in the greenhouse, however, but in a fish tank-turned terrarium indoors. It’s the unlikely and startling Begonia burkilli. Delicate, if relatively unassuming in normal light, the leaves of this plant shine bright blue like polished lapis under the very bright light of a flash.

Begonias that turn blue under flash light.Credit:Edwina Pickles

The incredible colour is a response to the deep shade in the dense jungles of northern India, where it grows on steep cliffs overhanging waterways. The very low-light conditions in the jungle have caused the plant to evolve super light-sensitive leaves, which have the fascinating side effect of glowing iridescent blue under strong light.

There are several forms of B. burkwilli growing in Hosking’s terrarium, including a hybrid she created. She will be selling these, and other rare begonia species, at the Living Edge stall at Plant Lovers’ Fair in Kariong next weekend, September 17 and 18.

The Fair is a great opportunity to find the plants, like Hosking’s begonias, that you can’t find in the shops, supplied by more than 40 specialist growers. Though lots of the plants on offer are hard to find, most are not hard to grow. Even the luminescent B. burkillis are not difficult to grow, insists Hosking. They like warmth, humidity and dim light. Perfect for a terrarium, or even a bathroom.

The easy-going nature of the begonias was appealing to Hosking, after her previous ventures into plant collections. “Anthuriums are expensive and fiddly,” she says, “but begonias are so forgiving, and they just give more and more. They bring me joy.”

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