Every year during the first week of September, the annual Begonia festival in Capitola is held. This event is a blast, and great for the whole family. More information about the festival can be found @ http://www.begoniafestival.com/.
Here’s the history of the Capitola Begonia festival:
The 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 season.
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 Capitol’. 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 sight!!!