Back in the summer, my neighbour asked me to water the begonia in her office while she was on holiday. With complete indifference I topped it up every second day and failed to be impressed by its apricot flower. For no particular reason, I’ve never been a begonia fan.

Then about a month ago I walked into her kitchen one day and was gobsmacked. What she’d done lent a whole new meaning to the expression “riot of colour.” Juilia’s kitchen cupboards are turquoise so it’s a colourful room anyway, but she’d placed numerous pots of begonias on the counter outside her kitchen window, plus a couple indoors, and bowls of brightly coloured fruit on the bench. It created a mad, joyful space that I didn’t want to leave, and by the time I’d enjoyed a couple of glasses of (white) wine in there, I was falling in love.

For someone brought up with such fashion edicts as ’blue and green should never be seen’, I have a somewhat conservative approach to colour. My shoes are usually the same colour as my top, and in the garden, even the foliage plants are strictly controlled. The bedding plants The Partner favours are the bane of my life and I am occasionally tempted to give the purple and yellow ones an ‘accidental’ dose of Round Up.

But yesterday, while buying two black planters at the nursery, I was tripped up by a display stand of begonias. I succumbed, bought a red one to match the new throw I’d recently bought for the dog, and wondered if I’d lost my marbles. Later in the afternoon, I went back and got a couple more.

I always thought they were rather ugly, fleshy plants with simple flowers and not much going on in the foliage department, but such is not the case.

Begonia flowers are not unlike camellias and gordonias, with which I’ve been having a bit of a flirtation over the past few months, so what’s not to like?

Like camellias, they do plain, fancy, single, double, frilly and whatever else your heart desires. They like well-drained soil, shelter from the wind, and a bit of shade during the day. But if you plant them in serious shade it’ll make them grow very long stems and reduce the length of their flowering time. The one growing at the shady end of our bedroom is a case in point, having reached the ceiling without doing anything else significant.

I sloshed water on Juilias’s begonia every other day, but I now know it’s important to make sure the soil is properly moistened right down through the root system and then only water again when the surface of the soil had dried out. Don’t overdo it, or allow the soil to become too soggy.

Depending on whether you want to grow your begonias indoors or out, there are a number of varieties you can choose from.

Bedding Begonias

These low growing varieties, with pink, white and cerise flowers, are usually grown as annuals but may last for more than one season if their environment is frost-free. They like the morning sun and good drainage but, like most begonias, they’re very prone to mildew. You can help to avoid this by watering the plants at the base in the morning, so that the leaves dry quickly. Plants in this group are often termed ‘semperflorens’ (forever flowering) which aptly describes their generous performance.

Rex Begonias

Rex begonias are often used inside where they need good light out of direct sun, good drainage and an occasional feed.

Elatior begonias produce colourful clusters of flowers for most of the year. They’re bred as indoor plants so keep them in the kitchen and impress your neighbours. They need good light, an occasional feed and I’m convinced they enjoy eavesdropping on culinary conversations. Sit the base on a saucer of pebbles sitting in water. This keeps the potting mix above the water level and, as the water evaporates, increases the humidity around the plants.

Tuberous begonias die back completely during the cold weather, surviving as flat underground tubers. Then they surprise you when it gets warm, producing gorgeous, quite complex, multi-petalled flowers. Lift and store the tubers for winter and replant in August or September.

(Order number: begonia 3)