Monday, 23 January 2012


The ancestors of the fuchsias that brighten your garden were once growing in the forests of Central and South America. Exactly how they got to England is a bit of a mystery as there are many differing stories. One has a sea captain in the 1790s, Captain Firth, bringing a plant back from a voyage to the Americas and giving it to his wife who lived in Hammersmith. She liked it and planted it on her window sill where a local horticulturalist, James Lee, saw it. Now, fashionable society was in the middle of a plant collecting craze, and recognising a gold mine when he saw one he offered an incredible 80 pounds for the single plant. He knew what he was doing as he then sold cuttings for 10 to 20 pounds each. The popularity of the new flowers grew, with a desire for new forms- there are over 110 natural species of fuchsias, so almost endless possibilities for hybridisation, leading to the huge variety of colours and shapes seen today.

This is Fuchsia regia, "brinco-de-princesa". More a vine than a tree or shrub, it can grow over 20 ft high, supporting itself on other plants as it struggles to reach the light. It's found from Minas and Espirito Santo down to Argentina, though generally only growing above 700m in the hotter latitudes. These were found at the Itaimbezinho canyons near Porto Alegre in the south of Brazil, part of the amazing Aparados da Serra National Park, where they are often shrouded in mist at night.

Regia was one of the original fuchsias used for plant breeding, and is still used for this today as it's a) very pretty, b) vigorous and c) resistant to the Fuchsia gall mite (Aculops fuchsiae, which also comes from Brazil). You can actually use it as a garden plant, but it needs an awful lot of pruning.