Fuchsias ARE Funky, OK?

Full marks to Sarah Raven for putting a Fuchsia on the front page of the gardening section of the Telegraph for November 28th and naming it as one of her top 10 flowering plants for 2009. I think that shows chutzpah!


She says fuchsias are ‘returning to the in-fashion fold.’ If the expressions on the faces of the people I talk to are any guide whatsoever, they have a long way to go to get back in! I expect when it is fashionable, once more, for baby girls to be named ‘Elsie,’ we will know that the time of the fuchsia has come again. I had a great aunt Elsie who was partial to a fuchsia when she wasn’t also being partial to an officer or any man in uniform come to that!

Sarah makes a very valid point when she says that fuchsias can be in flower from August until Christmas and certainly they are a valued source of colour when little else is around in that particular range of hues. And surely this is a little how we should see plants-what they can do for us, what function they fulfil within the garden, rather than whether we like them individually or not.

In fact I would go further and say that there are very few plants that I actively prefer to others and few that I actively discount. Having been passionate in my time about so many plants, I have finally come out the other side and think that even dandelions have their place-though preferably, I admit, on a roadside verge! So this ‘in – fashion or not’ idea, is a bit loco to me.

Sarah could also have added another virtue, which is that fuchsias grow and flower in shade. Also, shady equals dull and so some zing is the order of the day here especially when we get to the dull months of the year. So this is yet another function they fulfil. They will create a colourful display, where there is comparatively little chance of achieving the same vibrancy with other plants.


Whatever else they say about them, no one says fuchsias are dull. Red, pink, purple, white, but never dull. The bicolour combo is a visual buzz and the arrangement of sepals and petals has distinctly aerodynamic potential.

Last year I began to experiment with trial plantings of fuchsias to see whether they were the answer to a troublesome spot in my garden. Branches from two of my neighbours’ Ash trees overhang one end of a formal-ish area. I am willing to tackle heavy pruning, but this one is beyond me. We are talking serious, ‘tree surgeon height’ here and my neighbour likes hefty bills about as much as I like heights.  Whereas the fuchsias, derived from carving up existing clumps and pieces I have layered, are as cheap as chips.

It worked, so currently the best course seems to be to go with the flow, shady though it may be. If fuchsias were to be the sexy bit, I had to think up the background. We are currently on a tight budget at Chateau Webber I have therefore elected to hack apart a substantial clump of the Chilean bamboo, Chusquea couleou – a back breaking endeavour, but one which saves bucks big time. And its whirls of feathery, evergreen foliage will make an elegant, susurrant backdrop.

Hydrangea sargentiana with large leaves makes a good visual contrast, but employs another sense since they are also heavily felted. Its lacecap flowers are a midsummer delight of violet and white, showing up well on dusk strolls. Descending somewhat in height and coming to the front, clumps of Sarcococca confusa will provide year round, lustrously dark, evergreen foliage and intoxicating winter scent. The fern, Polystichum Bevis, lightens the mood and its limey froth picks up the featheriness of the bamboos at the back.

Within this largely foliage structure I can use what drifts of ‘love interest’, (purely in the form of the fuchsias you understand), I choose. I will opt for the pale pink and white bells of fuchsia magellanica alba to the back, because of its height, flaking bark and softness. To the front I will use fuchsia microphylla for its dwarf habit and flowers which are shockingly cerise and yet so engagingly small that the whole plant remains elegant.


Having been restraint itself, it is time for a bit of audacity. Good old ‘Mrs Popple’ can take up the midfield as she is more than able to do. Her purple and red brassiness lasts well into early winter. Who can resist?

Keeping the show on the road, some species Galanthus such as elwesii for winter and Spanish bluebells for late spring in drifts throughout, and I have completed a new border-in my head at least!

So let fuchsias, like cupcakes, ercol chairs and Cath Kidson-esque florals, have their renaissance. I am all for it.

Bring it on!