homespun Capitola Begonia Festival has its
roots in the moist, cool coastal climate
of Santa Cruz County, California, which is
eminently hospitable to the tuberous begonia.
Major begonia growers were located in Capitola
and Santa Cruz in the mid-20th Century, and
a festival in late summer--when the begonias
are in spectacular bloom--was a natural way
to extend the late-summer coastal tourist
The 'Pacific Begonia', as it is known, was hybridized in Capitola.
At the turn of the Century, the Brown family immigrated to Capitola.
They tried for years to develop some sort of sustainable agriculture
to assure their survival in this sparsely populated, primarily
tourist area called 'Camp Capitola'. Obtaining Begonia bulbs from
Germany, who bragged of 'the best flowers', and Begonia tubers
from Belgium, who claimed 'the strongest tubers', the Browns cross-bred
the 2 varieties, and developed the Pacific Begonia. From the 1930's
to the 1970's, approx 90% of the worlds Begonias came from the
Brown Bulb Ranch in Capitola.
Peggy Matthews was a local resident who taught swimming. She staged
the Capitola Water Follies every fall, to showcase her swimmers.
Peggy couldn't help but notice all the Begonia flowers going to
waste on the Brown Bulb Ranch (where the Capitola Mall is today).
Of course, she was not aware that the growers had no interest whatsoever
in the flowers; they were propagating bulbs. The death of the flowers
signified that it was time to dig up the bulbs and send them to
market. Begonia's are not a 'cut flower'.
So, in 1951, Peggy was given permission to pick as many flowers
as she wanted. That year the Capitola Water Follies featured paddleboards
decorated with Begonias, and that is basically how the Begonia
Festival got its start. The next year was the first year of actual
'floats', and even though the real "Capitol Begonia Festival' was
not official until 1954, we have always used 1952 as the starting
date. Today, the Begonia fields are in Marina, which is Monterey
County, and the Golden State Bulb Growers Association maintains
a very large area of many types of bulbs. There are 43 acres dedicated
to Begonias, over 3 million blooms, come late summer. A spectacular