Like the hummingbird, gardener is a fan of fuchsia

Judging from the staggering number of catalog photos I’m seeing, dahlias are still the hottest plants in the horticultural world. I live across the street from the dahlia whisperer of Port Washington, so it isn’t a surprise to me. But I’m out of step with the crowd since I’m currently infatuated with fuchsia, and I have a basement full of them to prove it.

Most fuchsias are native to Central and South America, and my interest in them is tied to my other obsession — hummingbirds. The fuchsias found at nurseries today are hybrids of several native plants, and their long, tubular blossoms are prime fodder for the little birds while they winter in the Southern Hemisphere. What better way to lure them to my garden than to provide food they’re already familiar with and love?

Hybrid fuchsias thrive in areas with cool summers and mild winters, so in the United States, outside coastal northern California, Oregon and Washington, they’re annuals or container plants. When they’re grown in the ground, though, most fuchsias are small shrubs with woody stems that flower all summer.

My fuchsia career didn’t start out very auspiciously. I purchased a couple of small plants from the hardware store and managed to kill both of them by the end of the summer. Not only did I put the little plants in containers that were too small, but I took the label advice to give them shade. In the quarter century since, I’ve learned that “plant shade” and “people shade” are very different things. People shade means no sun at all reaching the people. Plant shade means dappled light or full sun in the morning with protection from the hot afternoon rays.

I picked up another fuchsia the following year. I still have it and a couple of its clones. It’s an upright plant about 18 inches tall and produces buckets of inch-and-a-half long flowers that look just like a fuchsia should — a violet inner flower surrounded by dark coral sepals.    

My little plant is fine in a container, but it isn’t going to make one of those huge hanging pots with trailing stems filled with cascades of flowers. So I turned to my favorite catalog and ordered a couple of the fuchsias there. I was quickly hooked.

‘Change of Heart’ has flowers just like my original fuchsia, but they grow on trailing stems on a huge plant 4 feet tall and wide. I thought that would take a long time, but ‘Old Berkeley,’ another I got as a tiny start, grew to shrub size over a single summer. A cutting I took from ‘Old Berkley’ last summer also reached shrub size by the end of the year. It has chunky neon purple inner flowers with lightly blushed sepals. The abundant flowers are about 2 inches long and an inch wide.

Fuchsia gall mites introduced in the U.S. And Europe in the 1980s devastated fuchsias It’s only in recent years that gall-resistant fuchsias like mine have come to market and made the plants easier to grow.

Our fuchsias are messy plants to overwinter since they’re constantly flowering and dropping spent blossoms. Keeping them is well worth the effort, however, when they’re filled with summer flowers — and you hear the buzz of happy hummingbirds feeding right next to your chair.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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