THIS autumn, I have spent a great deal of time in the lea of the west-facing wall of the Victorian garden that I tend for a living. Mornings have been chill and damp, but, more often than not, the afternoon sun has made it feel fleetingly like summer again. The area is home to an amazing collection of hardy fuchsias, and the job has been to audit and re-label them to retain their status in the Plant Heritage National Plant Collection scheme.
The species from which garden fuchsias have been bred come mainly from humid regions of Central and South America. Hence they have been enjoying the recent mild winters and damp summers. A west-facing aspect that tends to catch the rain and offer a cool root-run, with some sun, suits the genus well. So, all in all, the plants in my care are in good health and vying for attention. And there are some real beauties.
“Lottie Hobby” has small leaves and bright pink flowers with protruding white stigmas. Being dense in growth it can even be used as a subject for topiary. Pink-sepalled, violet-petalled, “Chillerton Beauty” is a more conventional belle.
The Victorians were enthusiastic about fuchsias, and these two stem from that era, the golden age
of fuchsia breeding. Not all successful cultivars arose from deliberate crossings: in 1899, a nurseryman by the name of Clarence Elliot was attending a tennis party hosted by his neighbours, Mr and Mrs Popple.
He noticed a fuchsia plant with large single blooms growing next to the court, and saw in it a unique and valuable garden plant. He named it “Mrs Popple”, and it still holds its own today as a reliable heavy bearer of classic single fuchsia blooms with red sepals and purple petals. It can make a striking hedge in sheltered gardens.
Some newer varieties have caught my eye, too. “Genii” has lime-yellow leaves, cerise sepals, and rich violet petals. “Hawkshead” is an elegant white-flowered selection of Fuchsia magellanica, the species seen naturalised in Cornwall and Western Ireland. “Garden News”, by contrast, is your full-on frou-frou fuchsia in pastel pink with a double magenta skirt. It is hard to believe that, along with all the aforementioned, it is hardy enough to withstand most winters outdoors.
When we encountered problems during the stock-take (missing or mismatched labels), we enlisted the help of Ian Strawson, a leading member of the British Fuchsia Society. As he worked his way down the west wall, he told me about Fuchsia “Sarcoma UK”, a cultivar he had bred and named to raise awareness of a cancer of the bone and soft tissue which is hard to diagnose. Ian had suffered from it himself, and made a full recovery.
The new fuchsia was released at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, earlier this year. While needing some winter protection, it is smothered in blush-pink and cerise flowers over many months. Proceeds from the sales of this new fuchsia will go to the charity after which it is named. It will be available from Roualeyn Fuchsias, from next March.