Hartley Magazine

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Fabulous Fuchsias

Maybe I’m getting old, but I find I am more and more attracted to plant collections these days. I used to think it was a male phenomenon, that need to tick boxes and own every single member of a plant family, but now I’m not so sure. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t filled the greenhouse with just one plant family, nor have I acquired a NCCPG plant collection, but I can see a certain attraction building to certain plant genus.

Fuchsias 1Take fuchsias for example. I’ve probably got half a dozen different types and I do love the dangling flowers that dance in the breeze. It’s a small start considering the hundreds, if not thousands, of fuchsia species and cultivars. But to be honest, this summer I have fallen in love with one plant in particular.

I first saw it in a garden on the Isle of Wight.

The garden whose identity will remain private is nurtured by a wonderful plant enthusiast, who can usually be found pottering in the compost heap, where rumour has it she is hatching some dragon eggs, or just digging for England in her woodland plot. Her garden is saturated with horticultural delights, so to pick one plant from her life’s collection is perhaps a little insular, but in gardening we are all fired up by different things.

Bear in mind that this was a March visit and this fuchsia, as that was what it was, was flowering it’s heart out and literally buzzing with bees that were hanging off it’s tiny, scarlet pink flowers. Okay, well you had to expect bees to feature somewhere in this story! But it’s a real gem, honest.

It’s not like me to ask for a cutting, but I was so blown away by this bushy, tiny leaved plant that I just had to swallow my pride and beg. I shouldn’t have worried, as most gardeners are flattered when visitors love their plants and I was soon adorned with a handful of stems to take home.

Remarkably they survived the journey back and were soon rooting in my seed and cuttings compost on the greenhouse bench. Imagine my delight when seven little plants took off like little rockets and started sprouting flower buds that soon burst into flower. I had to really steel myself to pick them all off, so the plants put their energy into making new growth.

It wasn’t quite what the garden owner had labeled it as, so it took a little tracking down.

Fuchsias 2It’s called Lottie Hobby and was first bred in 1839. It actually an encliandra type fuchsia, originating from South America where they grow at altitude on the cool cloud forests in a climate not unlike the UK and perhaps that’s why it thrives here too. It’s rated as a 4 on the RHS Hardiness scale which makes it tolerant of an average winter, down to about -10C. It certainly loved it’s protected setting on the IOW but will need some greenhouse protection in my part of the world. Not a problem though as there’s plenty of bench space in my Hartley Villa.

I think it should be renamed Lottie Rocket as it’s a real grower and already some of my plants are getting pretty big. Even without flowers it’s a pretty little thing with pinky red stems and rich, dark green leaves. What I had noticed is that they hadn’t flowered since their spring attempts, but I now discover that they flower in lower light conditions, i.e. earlier and later in the season, and that they make great houseplants too, so I think I will spread them around for the winter, keeping some in the greenhouse, some in the house and maybe one or two outside if it stays mild enough.

The other seasonal winner this summer has been Fuchsia ‘Gummiberry’, a Suttons Seeds introduction that plays on the fact that fuchsia berries are edible. Yes you can even make jam from them, or really dare to be different and make some fuchsia berry muffins. In fact fuchsia flowers are edible too, so you can add them to salads and use them as a floriferous garnish for posh occasions or summer lunches. Now I’m guessing that there is some kind of scale in taste and yumminess even for fuchsia berries, perhaps a little like wine tasting and maybe they are affected by the moon phase too. Definitely my fuchsias (not counting my Lottie Hobby) have relatively small, petit pois sized berries that haven’t yet cropped, either that or something is earing them before I get to them. I think I keep picking them off when deadheading my plants, but I’m expecting a very modest harvest this month. Once I’ve got a bit more greenhouse space I think I will plant them into terracotta pots and place them high on the greenhouse bench where they will get plenty of light and continue flowering right into winter.