The problem with fuchsias

The problem with fuchsias

I think I had been writing gardening columns for about five years before a kindly subeditor pointed out that I couldn’t spell ‘fuchsia’.

But grow them? Yes — any brown-fingered novice gardener can grow fuchsias. But exactly how?

Fuchsia’s spelling comes from being named in honour of a German botanist called Herr Fuchs by a French botanist monk, Charles Plumier (he was honoured when his name was used for frangipani, Plumeria spp).

While I do sometimes wish Herr Fuchs been called Herr Smith, the gardening world owes Charles Plumier a great debt. Because fuchsias aren’t just glorious — they grow and flower in dappled light where not many plants will give stunning blooms and glossy leaves; they grow easily from a cutting stuck in a pot and, if given a little care, will bloom for most of the year.

The best fuchsia to buy is the one your garden centre says will grow best in your area (if they don’t know, buy from another garden centre where the staff know their plants).

Some love hot tropics; others will survive the worst of frost as long as they are next to a warm wall or hung on the veranda.

There are bush fuchsias as well as mini ones that are best for hanging baskets; there are weepers and ones that are narrow and vertical. They are also stunning in large tubs.

Read the label, to see what form your will grow into. Don’t bother too much about the blooms — EVERY fuchsia has stunning flowers, guaranteed to enchant you.

Fuchsias love morning sun, dappled shade in the afternoon, and protection from heavy frost, drying direct sunlight and strong winds.

A tub on the patio or hanging baskets on the veranda are perfect, but I’ve also seen glorious hedges along the shady side of a house, or bushes scattered about a not too glary courtyard garden (add a small fountain for paradise).

Perhaps the loveliest display I ever saw was a row of hanging fuchsias along the veranda of a huge old Queensland house. The line wasn’t straight, but some high, some low, some in between, so the whole outside wall was made up of dangling fuchsias.

Make sure any container is big enough to allow your fuchsia to grow, and that water won’t puddle at the base.

Don’t try to grow them in the pot you bought them in — they it will almost certainly be too small. If you don’t have a spare pot, buy a larger one when you buy your fuchsia. Fuchsias need to be kept moist, but may die quickly and suddenly if they stay waterlogged.

As for feeding — the two most skilled fuchsia growers I know, with plants to make you drool and beg for cuttings, have quite different feeding systems.

One gives their fuchsias dilute soluble plant food every fortnight, except in winter when they weren’t putting out new shoots. The other gives a twice a year feed of slow release plant food, once in mid-spring and the other in late summer. I reckon the choice is up to you.

And if you already know a fuchsia grower in your area, beg for a few cuttings, now. Place them in damp soil in a dappled light and a warm spot and wait till they have quadrupled in size before transplanting them into a bigger pot, probably by midway through next summer.

A neighbour’s fuchsia will be one that grows well in your climate. There is also a particular joy in watching plants grown from cuttings turn into big bushes, a bit like seeing your kids grow up.

But fuchsias don’t need to be driven to Saturday morning sport, nor do they ever complain they don’t want to eat their vegies.

Fuchsias stay tidy, neat (although an annual tidy up of old or unproductive wood at the end of winter is a good idea) and never have grubby faces. Above all (like your kids) they are forever beautiful.

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