The Hardy Fuchsias
It is said that people who love fuchsias, really love them. With three generations of fuchsia lovers in my family, I was destined to fall in love with them too.
I remember my grandmother’s hanging baskets overflowing with fuchsia branches smothered in blousy, red and white flowers. My family sat on a deck and chatted with Grandma while she tended her beautiful baskets. Her nimble fingers quickly pinched off the faded blossoms. I sat on her deck mesmerized by the hummingbirds buzzing in to drink the nectar from the flowering baskets above me.
When I purchased my first fuchsia basket, I chose the blousy red and white flowers of Fuchsia “Swingtime,” similar to the ones that my grandmother grew. Years later when I spotted a 6-foot-tall, hardy fuchsia growing in a lightly shaded woodland garden, I began a lifelong love affair with the genus.
Many fuchsias come from the cloud-infested, higher elevations in the Southern hemisphere forests. It’s not surprising that fuchsias thrive in our cool maritime climate. Hardy ones easily fit into almost any landscape, from woodland gardens to formal ones. You can utilize them as seasonal hedges, cascading down walls, housed in containers or nestled into a mixed border. Wherever you plant them, they will bring a long season of color for the hotter days of summer well into the cooler days of fall.
During mild winters, hardy fuchsias loose their leaves with minimal stem dieback. However, about every four to five years, this area experiences a colder than normal winter that freezes the hardy fuchsias down to the ground. This isn’t a problem since they sprout again from the roots and by midsummer flower as profusely as before. Low-maintenance plants once well established, fuchsias are surprisingly drought-tolerant in our mild climate. However, for optimum growth and flowers, they prefer a moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil. Below are a few select fuchsias.
Planting and Growing Fuchsias
In the spring or early summer, choose a well-drained spot in your garden. Dig the hole twice as wide as the root ball, and then mix in a handful of complete organic fertilizer. For a small plant, dig the hole deep enough that half the plant goes under the soil. For larger plants, place the crown 6 inches deeper.
Backfill the hole halfway with soil and water it in. After backfilling the rest of the hole and watering again, mulch the fuchsia lightly with compost or composted manure. When fall arrives, spread an additional 6 inches of mulch over the plant. When spring comes around and the leaves begin to open, prune back about half of the previous year’s growth.
If the plant dies back to the ground in winter, prune the dead stems to the ground. Fertilize your fuchsias once in spring and again in early summer and add a yearly mulch of compost or manure.
Fuchsia ‘Santa Claus’
Size: 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide
A grouping of these heat-tolerant, 3-foot-tall plants offers up a visual treat whenever they are in bloom. Like Christmas ornaments, the red-reflexed sepals open to reveal pure-white corollas streaked with red veining, while rose-pink stamens dangle below. The bright colors of summer come to life when this fuchsia is paired with a deep blue, lace-capped hydrangea, which flowers at the same time. (Above left.)
Size: 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide
Lately I’ve been smitten by the orange and coral fuchsias such as this recent addition to my garden. The soft green leaves set off the flowers with long, rose-pink tubes; white-tipped, pink sepals; and rose-coral corollas. These plants can reach up to 9 feet tall in a California garden, but around the Puget Sound region, they grow only a few feet above ground. (Above right.)
Size: 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide
This 1986 introduction is an upright bush that grows up to 4 feet tall. “Ravenslaw” lights up a woodland garden with red flowers dangling below luscious, deep-green leaves. The red sepals open to reveal a reddish-purple corolla that fades to match the sepal hue as the flower ages, giving it a striking red-on-red effect. (Above left.)
Fuchsia ‘Tom West’
Size: 2 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide
Many years ago, I selected this variegated fuchsia for its delicious foliage splashed with cream, green and rose hues. Rosy-red stems carry leaves accented by red veins, which match the sepals topping the purple corolla. The horizontal-growing branches soften a rock wall but the plant looks equally handsome on flat ground. Growing in a hanging basket, the attractive foliage holds up during the heat of summer. (Above right.)
Fuchsia ‘Pat’s Dream’
Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide
This fuchsia is a prolific bloomer, covering itself with hundreds of flowers from June until first frost. Reflexed, red sepals and blue-purple corollas with red veining and red stamens are a remarkable combination. The corollas fade to violet when the flower matures. (Above left.)
Size: 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide
Wider than its height, “Checkerboard” is an upright, free-flowering fuchsia. Its charming, pendulous flowers have alternating colors — red corollas, white sepals and thin, red tubes (hypanthiums). This is a good choice for growing as a standard in containers, hanging baskets or in the garden.(Above right.)
Fuchsia magellanica var. molinae
Size: 5-8 feet tall and 5-10 feet wide
Unlike most magellanicas, with bright red and purple flowers, this species’ corollas are soft lavender, with sepals that are almost white, with a blush of pink. Sources say Fuchsia magellanica var. molinae attains a height of 5 or 6 feet when mature. However, in my garden, this fuchsia grew 8 feet tall and almost as wide after seven years. (Above left.)
Fuchsia ‘Claire de Lune’
Size: 30 inches tall and 30 inches wide
I fell in love with the name “Clair de Lune” because it sounded so romantic. And no wonder — the name is French for moonlight. Bred in France circa 1880, “Claire de Lune” has the most scrumptious orange hues with tinges of salmon in its single blossoms. This is a graceful, trailing fuchsia that is equally at home with its bronze-green leaves cascading down a wall or a container. (Above right.)
Fuchsia ‘Army Nurse’
Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide Introduced just after World War II, this American beauty adorns itself in richly-hued blossoms. The ample double flowers have a short tube, reflexed carmine red sepals, rose-streaked purple corollas that fade to violet as it ages and rose-pink stamens. “Army Nurse” is a real trooper, growing equally well in full sun or dappled shade.
Fuchsia magellanica var. gracilis ‘Aurea’
Size: 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide
“Aurea” is a choice cultivar for its red-veined, golden foliage suspended from red stems; the golden foliage is reason enough to grow it. Growing over a wall, the upright fuchsia’s arching habit cascades its golden skirts over dark rocks with stunning results. To keep the foliage golden, provide afternoon shade to keep the leaves from scorching. The 2-inch, single, nodding flowers have red tubes (hypanthiums) and sepals with purple corollas contrasting pleasantly against the bright foliage.