GALLERY: Big crowds for Begonia Festival

THOUSANDS of families made a beeline to the 2014 Ballarat Begonia Festival at the weekend. About 12,000 people spilled through the gates on Saturday, marking day one of the three-day festival at the Ballarat Botanical Gardens at Lake Wendouree. 

Attendance was up by 4000 on the Saturday this year, with 4630 people visiting the free begonia display in the conservatory.

Ballarat City Council mayor Joshua Morris said free entry into the conservatory and the clear skies helped boost attendance this year. 

“The weather has been a huge factor on attendance,” Cr Morris said. 

“The rain we had overnight has helped the begonias stand tall today.” 

Flower displays and workshops captured the interest of adults, while children were amused by live entertainment, woodwork and potting workshops. 

Special guests included 2013 Chelsea Flower Show winner Wes Fleming and gardening identity Melissa King.

Mr Fleming, director of Fleming’s Nurseries in Monbulk, won Best in Show at London’s Chelsea Flower Show last year. 

Horticulturist Karen Godfrey, who manned the Botanical Garden Shop at the festival, said she had sold hundreds of begonia plants.

“It has been steady and busy,” Ms Godfrey said.

“The Non-Stop Begonia variety has been very popular.”

Crowds also flocked to the free begonia display in the conservatory.

Victorian Begonia Society treasurer Kevin Butterworth said the free access into the enclosure had helped flower sales. 

“I’m sure this is the first year we don’t have to pay to get into the conservatory,” Mr Butterworth said. 

“It encourages people to spend at our stalls.” 

Begonia grower Stan Woolstencroft said it was great to see so many people turn out to the event. 

“We haven’t seen the younger generation come up to carry on (the begonia legacy),” he said.

“We need to get more people interested.” 

Mr Woolstencroft, 81, has been growing begonias for almost three decades at his Timboon property. 

He has attended the Ballarat festival for the past four years.