When it comes to horticultural fashion, it would be hard to pick a group of plants quite so resolutely in the style doldrums as fuchsias. Yet, while the pastel-coloured frills of the Barbara Cartland types we remember from 1980s pub hanging baskets might have a definite whiff of the doily about them, the huge genetic diversity of the genus means there is a fuchsia for almost any situation. From towering, hardy garden shrubs to tender houseplants, and even exotic candidates for the fruit and veg patch, here are some of the best reasons to ignore garden trends and rediscover these hard-working, versatile and beautiful plants.
Fuchsia magellanica from the southernmost tip of South America, in the cloud forests of Chile and Argentina, is the hardiest of them all. It can be grown outdoors almost anywhere in our analogous climate here in Britain. Although often cut back to ground level by gardeners to create a loose, suckering hedge, given a sheltered spot away from harsh winds, it will form a large shrub or even small tree. This can be encouraged by snipping off small suckers so the plant concentrates its energies on one or two central stems, and then “lifting” the canopy, by removing lower branches coming off this central stem(s) to encourage upward growth. This means its masses of slender purple and pink pendant blooms are above eye level and cascading dramatically down, and highlights its curious peeling bark. There is a beautiful pure white-flowered form, too, that might just rival it in terms of elegance called ‘Hawkshead’.
If you are after a conservatory curiosity, it doesn’t get weirder than Fuchsia procumbens, which hugs the ground at just 10cm high. An excellent candidate to spill over the sides of raised beds or pour out of wide, shallow dishes. Unlike the majority of this genus, it hails from New Zealand, where the electric blue pollen of its yellow and green flowers was allegedly once used by Maori women for makeup. While we are talking indoor fuchsias, my all-time favourite is the giant Fuchsia boliviana, whose slender flowers can reach over 10cm in length and drip from hanging stems. Both these species will happily grow outdoors in the summer but need bright, cool and frost-free conditions in winter. So a porch, conservatory or cool room is ideal.
Finally, it may surprise you to learn that fuchsias were originally domesticated not for their showy flowers, but for their sweet, black berries. While you can still find the fruit of some species on sale in South American markets, there has been almost no breeding for this trait. So while the berries of some cultivars are excellent, others are bland and watery. The best ones I have tried in a lifetime of nibbling? Fuchsia regia and Fuchsia fulgens, which have a flavour like plums and cherries with a hint of pepper, as well as exotic flowers and beautiful border-filling habits. Why these plants aren’t the height of fashion I will never know!
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