70 (July/August 2003)
Begonia 'Joe Hayden'
by Peter Szilagyi
My infatuation with B. 'Joe Hayden' began sometime in
the late spring or early summer of Nineteen Seventy-One. I remember
walking past a flower shop on Third Avenue in New York City during a lunch
hour. When I casually looked at the plants displayed in the store's
window, my breath was taken away. I had never seen such an awesome and
I had to have it! So I simply went inside and bought
it. In hindsight, twenty dollars for a plant in Nineteen SeventyOne seems
like a lot of money. But I was young, recently graduated from college and
had no one to whom I had to justify my extravagant purchases.
I remember bringing it back to the office where I was
working at the time and proudly putting it on the windowsill across from
my drafting table. The very stark white architect's office I was working
in desperately needed the color and texture this plant provided!
The plant thrived in the north light of FiftySeventh
Street and Lexington Avenue. It did so well and grew so big, that it
became obvious to me, a mere plant novice, that it was time to divide
So I purchased three large clay pots and saucers,
along with a bag of perlite, one of a peat-moss, and a third probably of
The next day at lunchtime, I spread out several sheets
of newspaper on my drafting table and poured out the contents of these
bags. Just when I had finished mixing and mounding, resulting in a
mountain of soil, my Boss, Richard Meier, the architect for the now
famous Getty Museum in Los Angeles, approached my desk. Surprisingly, he
said nothing. He just shook his head and continued to walk by.
I cut the very large rhizome into fourths, potted each
section and watered them. In a few weeks the plants were ready to give
away which I did do.
I don't remember what happened to the original plant.
I certainly took it with me when I left Meier's office so I must have
taken it home with me.
In Nineteen-Eighty, I moved into a house in Fort Lee,
New Jersey; after all, isn't that what one is supposed to do, move from an
apartment to a house?
I took some of my plants with me thinking that my
youngest sister, who had moved into my apartment would take care of the
rest until I picked them up. However, instead of tending them, she ignored
them and they all, including 'Joe Hayden', died. In the ensuing years, I
never tried to replace this plant or any of my other begonias,
Twenty-nine years later, two years ago when I read an
article about begonias in the Denver Botanic Gardens Newsletter. It
mentioned the enormous B. 'Joe Hayden' plant inside and to the left
of the Garden's Conservatory entrance. It obviously rekindled a latent
obsession and longing within me. I immediately searched for and found the
ABS website and asked where I could find 'Joe'.
Greg Sytch called and gave me the names of a
number of mail-order houses to contact. I got in touch with one and
ordered B. 'Joe Hayden'.
'Joe Hayden' is now back in my life, along with
numerous other begonias. It's as if he had never left!
Thank you, Greg Sytch!
I've read in the Begonian that Rudy Ziesenhenne
bred it, many years ago.
When Peter sent this article in, he also sent a
copy to Rudy Ziesenhenne and asked him who Joe's parents were and
why he named the resulting cross 'Joe Hayden'. This was his reply:
"B. 'Joe Hayden' is a cross between B.
reichenheime X B. mazae. Begonia mazae is not
rhizomatous, but has thin upright stems about 1/8" in diameter. It grows
upright, but falls over and then tries to grow upright again. However, it
has leaves that are dark red below and that makes the leaves (on 'Joe
Hayden') dark brown.
B. 'Joe Hayden' was produced in 1947.
Mr. Hayden was an early Begonia member who retired and
lived in Vista, CA. We had a little contest to see who could find the
darkest leaved rhizomatous begonia. In his working life, he was an
Englishman who went out from London on to the colonies establishing motion
picture theaters in the early days."Peter goes on to add:
Being a music lover myself, I naturally assumed that
the plant was named for the Austrian composer and fellow countryman,
Joseph Hayden. I was wrong.
Here is Begonia 'Joe Hayden' exhibited in the Denver
Botanic Garden. Photo by Peter Szilagyi.