Winter Fuchsia blooms

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Fuchsia boliviana

We are all familiar with the gorgeous hybrid Fuchsia, with their large flowers, frilly skirts and lovely colours, blooming in the warmer months. However, there are a number of lesser-known species Fuchsia that also will grow well in our Sydney gardens and some of them are flowering right now! I have actually found that these species Fuchsia are easier to grow than the more flamboyant hybrid types.

At the moment in my garden, I have Fuchsia boliviana flowering for the first time (pictured at the start of the blog). I got it as a cutting from a keen gardener, and it has grown into a rather lanky, 2m-tall shrub (but can apparently get to 3.5 m). It has velvety leaves and hanging clusters of long-tubed, brilliant red flowers. It is native to the foothills of the Peruvian Andes, and seems to like our climate. There is also a white-flowered form with red markings on the petals, called Fuchsia boliviana var. alba. I think that these shrubs are best grown at the back of a border to hide their gangly stems, and should be regular pinched back to encourage branching, especially when young. I am not yet familiar with the length of its flowering period.

Fuchsia arborescens

Another shrubby form is the so-called tree fuchsia, Fuchsia arborescens, from Mexico and Central America. It came from another keen gardener many years ago. It has posies of tiny rose-purple blooms in winter and early spring, held above long, dark green leaves. I find it needs hard pruning after flowering, as it can get a bit straggly and woody over time; mine gets to about 2 m tall but it can grow much taller (up to 5.5 m or even more) if left unpruned. I think that it probably needs to be replaced by a freshly struck cutting after a few years when it has lost its vigour.

Fuchsia triphylla hybrid in the garden of Margaret Chedra in Sydney

Hybrids from the species Fuchsia triphylla are some of the most robust of the genus to grow in Sydney. The original species was discovered in the Dominican Republic/Haiti in the late 17th century. It was crossed with F. fulgens and F. splendens to produce hybrid forms now referred to as the Triphylla Group. These hybrids have long-tubed, single flowers, held in clustered bunches, most commonly coloured vibrant red or orange-red and appearing almost all year round in our climate, including winter. The velvety foliage is often dark tinted. The plants grow into shrubs about 75-90 cm in height. Three well-known cultivars are 'Gartenmeister Bonstedt' with brick-red flowers, 'Thalia' with orange-scarlet blooms and 'Coralle' with orange-red or salmon-pink flowers.

Unusual Fuchsia, possibly F. thymifolia

A most unusual species also flowering now is one that I acquired last year at a little market in the NSW Southern Tablelands. I was told by the stallholder at the market that it was indeed a Fuchsia but she did not know its species name. It has tiny, trumpet-like, pink flowers and minute, notch-edged foliage on arching stems. After a bit of searching, I came up with the possible name of Fuchsia thymifolia (colloquially known as the 'thyme-leafed fuchsia'). It appears that it grows to around 60 cm in height and width. It comes from Mexico and North Guatamela and may become deciduous in very cold areas. Another possible name is Fuchsia microphylla subspecies hemsleyana. Hopefully, one day I will find out the correct name. I have not yet seen it anywhere else. I am also not yet sure of the details of its flowering period.

All of these Fuchsia types will grow in shade or part-shade and like a well-drained, humus-rich soil and some mulch during the warmer months. Like most Fuchsia, they do not like waterlogged soil, which can cause fungus problems. They can be pruned in late August to keep them compact. Propagation is by cuttings taken in autumn or spring. All the mentioned species are fairly frost tender but may survive winter in cold gardens if grown beneath a protective canopy of trees or other shrubs.

There are apparently more than 100 species Fuchsia, and I am keen to find more of them - maybe at another little market stall somewhere!