Salinas, Calif. It seems that Mimi Schramm has always loved flowers. When she was 3 years old, she picked all of the prize blossoms from a neighbor's garden just before a home tour was about to begin.
For the last 25 years, her floral interests have centered on growing begonias. She and her husband, Bill, 65, a retired Navy captain, have a couple hundred varieties in their garden and greenhouse.
Showy saucer-size blossoms of tuberous begonias dazzle the eye in vivid reds, oranges and pinks. Lush foliage and dainty orange flowers flow out of baskets, and delicate clusters of coral blossoms hang from sturdy canelike begonia plants.
Over the years, as the couple gained expertise, they have been lured by the challenge of cultivating the lesser-known and rare varieties, added her husband, who is president of the Monterey Bay Area Branch of the American Begonia Society.
"We grow them for their color and beauty," he said. "When you get into it, you want a challenge of difficult varieties."
Begonias require little in the way of special care, said Mimi. Commonly sold plant food will do for begonias, she said, but be sure to keep the plants out of direct sunlight. The Schramms and other begonia lovers often place their plants in the shade of a "lath," or wooden structure with slats and lattice work.
Begonias can be grown in baskets, pots, in the ground and even in borders as shrubs. Most can be easily propagated from leaf, stem or rhizome cuttings, or they can be grown from seed. Best of all, most begonia plants are inexpensive.
Mimi became interested in begonias after meeting Leslie Hatfield, a grower in Marina, Calif., at a plant sale. Starting with those attention-getting tuberous begonias, Mimi was soon getting plants that were 3 feet tall with 9-inch blooms. "It was beginner's luck," she said.
For the next 20 years, the Schramms attended local begonia society meetings and plant sales, picking up new hybrids and cultivating an interest in unusual and rare varieties.
Moving among the shelves of the greenhouse, Mimi pointed out new growth along the rhizome of a plant she had potted earlier. The canelike begonias have lovely "angel wings," she said, and clusters of blossoms.
Of the several hundred plants in the greenhouse, all were propagated from cuttings that were shared by other begonia mavens, Mimi said.
One of her favorites is the "B. Richmondensis," a shrub type of begonia that blooms year-round in mild areas. It also does well in hanging baskets and doesn't get mildew.
The Schramms have fit their begonias in with drought-resistant plants that do well in their climate of warm summers and cool winters. The long-stemmed purple flowers of lavender bow in the breeze. Rosemary and ceanothus border a fence. A lilac tree and wisteria mingle with poppies.
Large pots of succulents grow in a mini-deck off the pool. Some of the jade plants are offshoots of the plant his mother grew 40 years ago. "They can become a living family heirloom," he said.