Fuchsias and Pelargoniums by Keith Cowley
These beautiful flowering plants must be two of the most popular summer plants and there will be plenty on display at the Old Railway Line now that it has reopened for walk in customers but don’t forget that their click and collect system is also still available.
These are really versatile plants for patio pots, hanging baskets, summer bedding, standards and, if hardy, also for mixed borders, flowering hedges or trained as espaliers or fans against walls. They originate from Central and South America and were brought to Europe by returning Spanish and Portuguese explorers, becoming popular in the UK in the 19th century. They were named by the French botanist and explorer Charles Plumier after the renowned German botanist Leonhard Fuchs. There are several thousand varieties with new ones being introduced every year but it has to be said that most are tender. They are grown for their long flowering period through summer and autumn and their showy, pendant blooms from modest slender tubes to fully double, bi-coloured flowers. The outer petals are known as sepals and the inner ones form the corolla.
The Tender Fuchsias
These either need winter protection by bringing under cover in October/November or replacing each year. An unheated greenhouse or shed will in most winters be enough protection. They need very little water through the winter but some watering is necessary in late winter and early spring to encourage them back into growth. The tender Fuchsias do tend to have the showiest flowers but like most “rules” this is not always the case! They also fall into one of two groups- Bush/Upright or Trailing depending on their growth habit.
Bush varieties include- Annabel (white), Celia Smedley (two shades of pink), Coralle (orange) Leonora (pink), Snowcap (red and white), Swingtime (pink and white), Thalia (long red/orange but one of the most tender), Winston Churchill (lavender and pink).
Trailing varieties include- La Campanella (white and pink/purple double), Jack Shahan (shades of pink), Lena (white and dark pink double).
All Fuchsias flower best when given a high potash fertilizer (tomato food is perfect) right from starting into growth in spring through to the end of summer. This also helps the wood harden which makes overwintering more successful.
When plants are young it is always a good idea to pinch out the tips of the shoots to encourage bushier plants which will eventually produce more blooms.
Most tender Fuchsias are grown in pots and hanging baskets which makes overwintering easier but this does mean of course that they also require more frequent watering and feeding.
These are very useful shrubs in the mixed border as they flower late into the autumn, can tolerate a certain amount of shade and require very little attention. In cold winters they may lose all or part of their top growth but will grow again from the base like a herbaceous perennial. It is always worth mulching in winter with compost or bark to protect the roots. Top growth is best left on until spring when growth starts again and the branches can be pruned back to new buds low down or even to ground level. At this time it is also worth applying a general fertilizer such as Blood, Fish and Bone or chicken pellets and many people also apply a second feed in July/August to keep the plants flowering for as long as possible.
Hardy Fuchsia varieties include- Genii (light green leaves and red/pink flowers), Lady Thumb (pink and white), Mrs Popple (an old favourite with red and purple flowers), Riccartonii (pink and purple), Tom Thumb (pink and purple), magellanica ‘Versicolor’ (long red and purple flowers and pinkish young foliage).
Fuchsias are fairly easy to propagate from either softwood cuttings in April to June or semi-ripe cuttings from July to August. They do produce seeds contained within their black, fleshy fruits but taking cuttings is a much quicker process and always produces an exact copy of the parent. I have read that the fruits are edible but I have never felt the urge to try one so I’m not recommending it! You can, of course, prevent the plant from producing fruit by dead-heading but for me there are so many flowers on Fuchsias it would be a full time job and I can think of better things to do with my time!
Originally from South Africa these are tender, evergreen perennials which provide some of our showiest summer flowers. When first introduced to this country they were given the common name Geranium as they were botanically similar to the herbaceous Geranium popular in Europe at the time. The similarity is perhaps most obvious in the “cranesbill- like”seed heads of the two groups. More on the “true” Geranium in my next blog!
Pelargoniums come in one of four main groups- Zonal, Regal, Ivy-leaved or Trailing and Scented. All groups need to be kept frost free in the winter. We keep our Zonals in an unheated porch in which they continue to flower right through the winter.
Routine care is similar to that for the tender Fuchsias but it is worth remembering that Pelargoniums don’t require as much watering and feeding as Fuchsias.
This group have the usual showy flowers in basically all colours except blue and yellow but also patterned leaves. They are excellent in summer pots, troughs, hanging baskets and bedding displays where they flower throughout the summer and autumn especially if dead-headed. They will also flower throughout the year if grown in conservatories and the house if kept above around 7 degrees centigrade.
These have gloriously showy flowers in reds, pinks, purples, whites and orange with rounded, serrated leaves. They are more tender than the Zonals and although they can be outside for the summer they are more often grown in conservatories, greenhouses or the house itself.
These are similar to the Zonals but with a more waxy, obviously, ivy-like leaf and a trailing habit which makes them particularly suitable for troughs, hanging baskets or for trailing over the edges of low walls.
The flowers, generally in pinks and mauves, are less showy and more delicate than the other groups. They are grown for their scented leaves which can fill a greenhouse or conservatory or they can be used along paths or in pots on the patio for the summer. Their leaf fragrances vary from sweet or spicy through to citrus or peppermint.
Plants can be raised from seed sown in the late winter/early spring in heat around 13-18 degrees centigrade or they can be taken as softwood cuttings in spring for flowering the same year or in late summer for flowering the following year.
I hope that the above has wetted your appetite for growing these wonderful plants for yourself. They are not difficult, provide masses of colour in the summer garden, suffer from very few pests and diseases, are not expensive and are easily available.
In the next blog I will tell you more about one of my favourite plants- the Hardy Geranium and after that we will be on to the Garden in July. Where does the time go when you are enjoying yourself?
Until then keep safe and good gardening.