In My Garden – Fuchsia

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The fuchsia is one of my favourite plants. They are most commonly grown in suburban gardens as small shrubs or in hanging baskets. The ‘hardy fuchsia’ (Fuchsia magellanica), though, can grow up to 3 metres in height in a frost-free climate.

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Most species of fuchsia are native to South America, but a few occur in Central America and the Pacific (New Zealand to Tahiti). They were introduced to Europe in the late 17th century by French monk and botanist, Charles Plumier who discovered fuchsia plants on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola during his third expedition to the Greater Antilles. He named the plant after the renowned German botanist Leonhart Fuchs.

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The fuchsia plant has arching branches that become woody as they age. the leaves are elliptical with a lightly serrated edge. It grows as well in pots and baskets as in the ground and can be trained as a standard or even espaliered. It prefers dappled shade, or morning sun with afternoon shade. The foliage and flowers will burn if subjected to too much sun. Even if located in the shade, the intense heat we occasionally get in summer will have the same effect.

 

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The fuchsia has a long blooming period from spring through to autumn. Here in Victoria, it will also produce blooms for shorter periods in winter as well. The fuschia flowers have a distinctive ‘teardrop’ shape. The blossom is made up of four slender sepals and four shorter petals. The colours of both the sepals and the petals vary from white and pale pink to lilac, dark red or purple, with the sepals often a different colour from the petals. The petals range from single, through double to tubular and the fruit is a small deep red or purple berry containing tiny seeds. Apparently, the fruit is edible, although I have never considered eating it. While some are reported as delicious and able to be made into jam, others are flavorless or leave a bad aftertaste. It all sounds a bit too much like a gustatory lucky dip for my liking. If, however, you are feeling brave enough and can manage to harvest enough berries, two recipes for fuchsia berry jam can be found here.

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Fuchsia plants need to be watered regularly in summer. It is important too that they are watered in winter – a time when I find it very easy to forget that the potted plants need regular watering. They also need a light prune following a burst of blossom, with a severe pruning in winter.

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I had heard that they grow wild in Ireland and was delighted to see them on the roadsides in Kerry on our far too brief visit to Ireland last year. The sight was every bit as beautiful as Brendan Behan describes it in Borstal Boy (1958, p.53)
…in Kerry where the arbutus grows, and the fuchsia glows in the dusty hedges in the soft light of the summer evening. ‘Deorini De’ – ‘The Tears of God’ – they called the fuschia in Kerry, where it ran wild as a weed. ‘Lachryma Christi’ – ‘The Tears of Christ’ – was a Latin phrase…
The small red blossoms could so easily be seen as tears of blood. The plant is not native to Ireland but the result of planted hedges of Fuchsia magellanica which made their escape into the wild in the middle of the 19th century although it is not as invasive nor destructive as the Rhododendron which was introduced to Ireland in the 1760s.

My aunt, when visiting my uncle’s family farm in Donegal, said she used to end the day by taking a walk down to the fuchsia hedge to stand and watch the sun set on the Atlantic – a glimpse of heaven here on earth.

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Fuchsia growing wild by the roadside in Kerry.

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