Ballerinas to beat winter

Hawkshead fuchsia
Hawkshead fuchsia

Fuchsias – one of the most popular of plants for hanging baskets and pots, with ‘ballerina’ blooms in so many shades of pinks, violets, purples, red, orange and white.

Most of those used for summer bedding are not hardy and will not withstand a British winter – yet there is an increasing range of hardy forms which make wonderful garden shrubs, flowering throughout the summer and well into the autumn.

Deltas Sarah fuchsia

Deltas Sarah fuchsia

Fuchsias are flowering shrubs and small trees, mostly native to Central and South America. Most are tropical or sub-tropical, hence not being frost hardy, but some originate from the temperate zone at the southern tip of South America. Many of the species have bright red sepals and purple petals, as these are the colours that attract the hummingbirds to pollinate them.

Most of the Fuchsias we grow in our gardens are hybrids, bred from a few selected species. The British Fuchsia Society has compiled a list of hardy varieties – with many hundreds now considered hardy throughout the UK during most winters.

In milder areas, such as the West Country, Fuchsias can make quite substantial shrubs as they are less likely to be cut to the ground by frost in winter. Some of the species, such as Fuchsia magellanica, and their cultivars, make impressive flowering hedges. These tend to be the smaller flowered forms – but this does not detract from their beauty. Others have much larger blooms, including an increasing range with double flowers.

Needless to say, we will not find hummingbirds pollinating them in our gardens, but they are sought out by one of our most interesting migrant moths – the Hummingbird Hawk Moth. These are quite unmistakable as they hover around a hanging basket of Fuchsias with their long proboscis seeking out the nectar.

Hardy Fuchsias are easy to grow shrubs, happy in sun or partial shade, although they prefer a reasonable fertile soil which does not dry out. Plant them deep – about 2-3 inches deeper than in the pot, with a mulch of compost or bark (I like composted bark) both at planting and again in the autumn to protect the roots over winter). I prefer to leave the stems over winter, even though the leaves will drop, and cut them back to the ground when the new shoots appear in the spring.

Here are some of my favourites. Genii tops my list. In shade the foliage is lime green, more golden in a sunnier position. I love it for the foliage alone, but the single flowers of cerise and violet add to its beauty.

Hawkshead has nudged is way into a few places in our garden, with its dainty ‘ladies eardrop’ of white, shading to pale pink or lilac. The blooms may be small, but there are lots of ‘em!

Garden News is quite the opposite. Large double blooms of pale and cerise pink. Stunningly eye-catching and will compete with any bedding.

Tom West could be grown for its foliage alone – variegated in shades of green, red and grey, with blooms of red and purple. May sound OTT but it works!

Deltas Sarah is quite the opposite. Delicate blue and white blooms set amongst the clean green leaves. Unusual colours for a fuchsia and well worth growing.

n Manea School of Gardening (RHS Approved Centre) RHS Courses taught at all levels. Applications now being taken for September. Now open for plant sales on Saturdays.

www.maneaschoolofgardening.org

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