How to use hardy fuchsias in the garden

Fuchsia 'Hawkshead' from Thompson & Morgan

Hardy fuchsia ‘Hawkshead’ produces delicate white blossoms 
Image: Fuchsia ‘Hawkshead’ from Thompson & Morgan

Hardy fuchsia plants are excellent all-rounders, showcasing a fabulous range of flower forms throughout the season. From delicate four-petalled blooms to blowsy giants, they’re a great way to brighten up gloomy or problem areas of your garden. Here, T&M blogger Caroline Broome explains how she put her two newest fuchsias to excellent use…

Hardy Fuchsia magellanica ‘Alba’

hardy fuchsia

Fuchsia magellanica ‘Alba’ glows in a shady corner of the garden
Image: Caroline Broome

I think hardy fuchsias are the unsung heroes of the shady garden. I’ve had the same Fuchsia magellanica ‘Alba’ shrub for nearly twenty years now. It came with us when we moved to our present house 17 years ago, and when it got too big for its space 2 years ago, we moved it to a larger site. It now thrives, giving us a profusion of delicate pinky cream tear-drop flowers on its 4ft high frame every summer.

Mind you, moving it was no mean feat! We waited until the end of March (the worst frosts are pretty much over by then in London) and with fingers firmly crossed, cut all its ½ inch thick stems back to 6 inch stumps. The root ball was 18 inches wide and it took both of us to shift it 10ft to its new home. David had to use a pickaxe to dig it up and then again to dig its new hole, our soil being solid clay by 8 inches down. But within 1 month, small green shoots were appearing around the base and it looked fantastic!

I can’t think of many plants that provide so much interest for up to 6 months of the year. Especially in inhospitable and difficult conditions like dry shade, where they often require very little attention. All I do is cut ours back to about 20cm from ground level in late March, and apply some specialised T&M granular fuchsia fertiliser and manure mulch. I water the base of the plant thoroughly about once a week or every ten days throughout the growing season. If it gets too large, I trim it back to fit its space. As it flowers most of the way down the stem, this doesn’t affect its performance. I’ve partnered it up with Abelia grandiflora ‘Edward Goucher’, which mirrors it in size and colour.

Half-hardy Fuchsia ‘Springtime’

Fuchsia ‘Swingtime’ from Thompson & Morgan

Giant flowered fuchsias look especially good spilling over from baskets and tubs
Image: Fuchsia ‘Swingtime’ from Thompson & Morgan

This autumn I planted Fuchsia ‘Swingtime’, by contrast a miniature half-hardy bush. At about 18 inches high and 18 inches wide, it’s still flowering in winter in semi-shade. Fuchsia ‘Swingtime’ produces large white and pink flowers, which look lovely paired with the cool white and green foliage of my Pittosporum. The shelter of surrounding evergreens and a trellis in well-drained and mulched soil should be enough to keep the shrub insulated from frost, but that depends on what this January brings. Watch this space!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this excellent blog post about fuchsias. Visit our fuchsias hub page for more resources to help with growing and caring for your fuchsia plants. Remember to share your fuchsias with us over on our social channels. We love seeing your gardens!

By Caroline Broome.

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Begonia x tuberhybrida ‘Non-stop Mocca’ from Thompson & Morgan

Begonia ‘Non-stop Mocca’ adds a splash of colour to any garden
Copyright: Benary

After a busy week with barely a peep outside, I went into the garden this morning and felt a none-too-subtle shift from high summer towards early autumn. There I was last Sunday extolling the virtues of planting for late summer colour, marvelling at the fact that my plot had yet to reach its peak. And this morning, well, I realised it had gone ahead without me!

Experience tells me that we should be able to enjoy the garden until well into October, and to a lesser extent into November too. But it’s a bittersweet knowledge. And it doesn’t help that it’s just started pouring down outside when, in 15 minutes, a party of nonagenarians is due for a spot of horticultural therapy a la NGS Garden and Health Week! OMG it’s pelting down.

Anyway, with the turn of the season comes reflection. So I thought it would be a good time to review some of this summer’s bedding plant schemes (whilst I can still see them, that is!)

Best new summer bedding plants

non stop mocca - summer 2017

  • Durability prize: Petunia ‘Mini Rosebud Romantic Peachy’. Although not much of a spreader, its dense mats of flowers need no deadheading and sparse watering. (Good job too, seeing as their hanging baskets just fall short of hose distance, and are just above comfortable watering can height.)
  • Greatest Endeavour: Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’. Poor things; when I planted them out with coleus ‘Redhead’, amongst some canna ‘Tropicanna Black’ divisions, who knew that they would be completely dwarfed by the canna’s 6ft tall paddle leaves. Still, their delicate little orange gems managed to poke out of the darkness. Talk about hiding your light under a bushel.
  • Forgot I Had Them Prize: Bidens Collection. Having trialled these bidens last summer I was more than happy to plug another lot into the shady hosta and heuchera baskets in the fernery (posh name for shady bit at the back where nothing else grows) this year. Once planted I promptly forgot about them until towards the end of July, when their starry little daisy-like flowers started popping up, clearly no offence taken.
  • Didn’t Think I Could Grow Them Prize: Trial Dahlia Plug Plants. Having never grown dahlias from anything other than dahlia tubers, I was hesitant to take on this trial. That said, wasn’t I likely to be the ideal candidate as, if they proved successful, then surely they could be catalogued as Idiot Proof! Three plugs each of four experimental varieties. Due to lack of space I planted each group of three into a 12” pot to start them off and eventually transplanted them onto the allotment. Well, within a fortnight two out of the four came into bloom, with more robust buds coming on. One group seemed particularly prone to slugs so I collared them with plastic tomato auto watering rings, which put a stop to that problem. I swear by those rings! Never have used them on tomatoes though.

Best of the rest

best plants - summer 2017

And now it’s time to review the other established plants in the garden, bearing in mind one always loves the plants that are Flowering Right Now the best:

  • Variegated phlox ‘Olympus’ with pinky white flowers, mixed with deep blue and white varieties, breathe new life into the mid-summer borders.
  • Pastel carpet roses from Flower Carpet Range and County Series, Chelsea Rose of Year 2015 ‘For Your Eyes Only’, just keep flowering away all summer long.
  • Shrubby salvias, salvia Uliginosa and huge tender Salvia confertifolia and Salvia involucrata. In fact all salvias. Except sage, I can’t grow sage. I have even broken my cardinal rule of not having any tender perennials in the borders, by lifting the most vulnerable ones for overwintering under cover.
  • Anything tall. Miscanthus, calamagrostis, eupatorium, thalictrum, Veronicastrum virginucum ‘Fascination’. With exceptions: tansy has to go; sick of it, better things in the offing at Plant Heritage Plant Sale in September, oh, and rampant filipendula should carry a government health warning.

Make the most of the next few weeks, and remember it’s never too late to do a bit of plant buying. Love, Caroline.

Visit our begonias hub page for links to a wealth of helpful begonia growing and care information.

It’s a Jungle Out There

We all love creatures great and small, right. I would far rather employ the birds and bees than use chemical bug control and so we go to great lengths to entice them into our garden. But then there is the small matter of our six cats to consider. And so we constructed the Catio: By encasing the pergola surrounding our 27ft x 8ft patio with wire mesh, we created a safe outdoor environment for our cats to enjoy fresh air and exercise, whilst protecting the wildlife in the garden from their basic killer instincts!

Cats in the Catio

© Caroline Broome – Cats in the Catio.

It also allows us to enjoy watching the birdies on our several feeding stations, the main one being no more than a metre from the enclosure. And most pertinent of all, I’ve got myself an amazing micro climate in which I can grow tender perennials such as Cannas, Abutilons and Eucomis and extend the annual summer displays well into November.

All creatures great and small seem quite relaxed in each other’s company, especially the starlings: their manners certainly are! I think pigeons get a bad name; we have two ferals and one wood pigeon as regular visitors and they never mess on their own doorstep, obligingly hoovering up all the scattered bird seed that the aptly named chatter of starlings fling all over the show. 

Mealworms, that’s what’s caused all this riotous behaviour. In early Spring the bird feeder started getting regular visits from a pair of starlings, which I now recognise as a scouting party. Nature having taken its course, within a month or two the fledglings had joined their parents, squawking impatiently to be fed. Ahh, how cute they looked, isn’t nature wonderful. Then word got out to all their relatives and before you know it there were 17 of them (all under the watchful eyes of our cats, a mere paw’s snatch away, under the protective custody of the Catio!) I’m having to refill the feeders twice daily; it’s costing me more to feed the birds than it is to feed the cats, I swear. The chaffinches and tits love the white sunflower seeds, the robins favour the suet blocks as does the woodpecker. Black sunflower seeds, so popular last year, are last resort, so fickle! I’ve even managed to train the squirrels (yeah, right) onto their own bird feeder further up the garden. Yes readers, the caged feeders do deter the squirrels.

Regrettably however, the 25mm mesh surround does not keep out fledglings, frogs or mice. So far, our Siamese kitten Ethel (named after my beloved 106-year-old friend who died last year) has bagged two mice (deceased) and several frogs (survived – clearly more robust.)

Fledglings, frogs and mice

©Caroline Broome – Fledglings, frogs and mice have all made their way through the mesh of the Catio.

The last frog escaped with its life by crawling into the cup of my bra (not, I am relieved to say, while I was wearing it) in the laundry room. But the highlight of our wildlife adventure has been the Female Emperor Dragonfly resting on a Miscanthus grass in the front garden. (Good job that never got in the house.)

Female emperor dragon fly

© Caroline Broome – The Female Emperor Dragon Fly.

We’re very lucky to attract so many birds, due no doubt to numerous large mature trees surrounding us in neighbouring gardens and the church yard. But a mile away in the Hampstead Garden Suburb several Hort Soc friends’ gardens back onto Big Wood. One such garden regularly welcomes woodpeckers, parakeets and goldfinches on a daily basis. Unbelievable racket! Surely Alfred Hitchcock took his inspiration for The Birds from The Suburb! On our NGS Group Open Garden Day recently (we raised £9000 by the way, she mentions nonchalantly) another woodland garden attracted a very friendly bird. It seemed quite at home, hopping around on the drive, amongst the throngs. It even ate out of one visitor’s hand and another identified it as a White Eared Iraqi Bulbul: Many Iraqis owns Bulbuls as pets, and they are considered to be one of the smartest and most intelligent birds on earth. This one certainly wasn’t daft as it soon sussed out the best tea and cake in the group. Hope it was reunited with its owners though, no doubt it was mentioned in despatches on the Suburb Chatline.

 Iraqi Bulbul bird

© Caroline Broome – Me and my new friend the Iraqi Bulbul bird.

Talking of which, when the Hort Soc opened for the NGS in 2017 we held a children’s treasure hunt: a model bird or animal was placed in each of the Open Gardens for the children to find, (on loan – the ornaments not the children – from our very supportive local nursery.) Quite a few garden owners bought theirs afterwards, including our esteemed Chair Doc Page, whose eagle befit his status! Having perched it on the apex of his greenhouse he then posted a photo of it on the Suburb Chatline. Had several residents in quite a flap apparently………(pardon the pun)

Catch up with you all later……..Caroline

A Tyranny of Pots

Seed Sowing

© Thompson & Morgan – Seed Sowing

Lately I’ve been thinking about this Plastics recycling issue; it’s really starting to bother me. Everywhere I look I see plastic pots, black ones, terracotta ones, grey ones, yellow, green, blue ones. The collective noun for pots is a stack of pots or a row of pots. I see it more as a tyranny of pots! Now, I admit that I am obsessive about order and like to ‘do the right thing’ but even I can lapse occasionally. If I try to sneak a plastic pot (or a dozen) into the black bin I am overcome with guilt. How can I preach the Recycle gospel if I’m not totally committed myself? I’ve tried leaving said pots on our front garden wall for neighbours to help themselves to no avail, in fact there is such a plethora of plastic pots (ooh alliteration) amongst us gardeners I’m surprised passers-by haven’t added their own! So what to do? Well, necessity being the mother of all invention I have become quite ingenious: 

  • I wash them all as I go along, then stack them by size and colour, oh yes, and shape, along the bottom shelves of my greenhouse.  We can’t have square pots, tall pots and round pots in the same stack, can we?
  • I’ve stopped (ish*) using plastic plant labels, opting instead for writing the contents of the pot onto the pot itself.
  • Once you start reusing the pots do remember to include the potting date each time and cross out the name of the last occupant; it’s surprisingly easy to mistake a petunia plug for last year’s osteospurmum. (* Of course, that won’t work on black pots.)
  • So I’ve been using the black pots up-turned in the bottom of large patio containers instead of crocks, much lighter and less soil used.
  • By cutting off the base of small pots you can use them as protective collars around juvenile tomatoes and cucumbers.
  • Ditto larger pots around border perennials to protect their early growth from slugs and snails. So far its saved my echinacea, lobelia and phlox from extinction.
  • If you sink a 9cm bottomless pot into the soil so that the rim is level with the soil surface, next to a cucumber plant, you can fill it up with water which slowly releases moisture towards the roots well away from the vulnerable neck of the cucumber.
  • This one is debatable, but sometimes it’s the only receptacle that comes to hand: if you stack two pots inside each other, then rotate the inner pot so that the drainage holes do not line up, you can use them as a scoop for soil or gravel. (Not vermiculite, that just flies everywhere!)
  • Here’s one I’ve just thought of: if you put a spool of twine in a pot and thread the end through one of the drainage holes you can use it as a dispenser.

Unfortunately, with a plant buying habit like mine, supply is always going to outweigh demand!

Colourful flower displays

© Caroline Broome – Colourful flower displays

Anyway, here we are approaching the Longest Day. One minute it was March, I sneezed and when I opened my eyes it was June already! Fast forward T&M trial plants: (At least I was able to use up dozens of 9cm plastic pots for the plug plants.) I finally managed to integrate them all into the patio planting scheme, when, hey presto, a surprise bundle of experimental seed trials arrived! Always one to rise to a challenge, out came the seed trays and off we go again! Spaghetti squash, radish, tomato and lettuce, zinnia, ipomoea, nasturtium and sunflower – just a few then! (Lesson learnt: the later you sow seeds, the faster they germinate.)

Ipomoea are already planted in a tall Ali Baba pot to see if they will trail as well as climb. In the greenhouse the resident mice ate the first batch of lettuce and radish seedlings straight out of the tomato trough, second attempt in freestanding pots more successful. Sunflower seeds have been secretly sown in our next-door- neighbours’ front raised bed adjacent to mine, as a surprise for their young children. Squash are winding their way up an obelisk instead of along the ground as there’s no more room.

In the meantime, the first batch of trial annual bedding plants are starting to flower. Nasturtium Orchid Flame are truly gorgeous, wish I’d bought more! Petunia Sweetunia Fiona Flash had its first flower within a week of planting into its hanging bucket, looking very chic alongside a grey green hosta. Every day a new begonia or petunia surprises me.

Mixed progress with tomatoes Sun Cherry, Sungold and Sweet Aperitif. Sungold as always is romping away and has already produced flower trusses. Cucumbers Mini Munch are healthy too. They might even have a chance to produce fruit seeing as I’ve finally cut back all the enveloping ivy that was threatening to transform the greenhouse into a grotto. Let there be light!

Showcasing this years flower and vegetable trials

© Caroline Bloom – Showcasing this years flower and vegetable trials

Ipomoea are already planted in a tall Ali Baba pot to see if they will trail as well as climb. In the greenhouse the resident mice ate the first batch of lettuce and radish seedlings straight out of the tomato trough, second attempt in freestanding pots more successful. Sunflower seeds have been secretly sown in our next-door- neighbours’ front raised bed adjacent to mine, as a surprise for their young children. Squash are winding their way up an obelisk instead of along the ground as there’s no more room.

But the one that is really challenging me is nicotiana Langsdorffii, what an absolute fiddle! Seeds the size of dust, I managed to prick out four tiny seedlings and grow them on, but oh so brittle. When they reached 8” tall, I planted them out in the central prairie bed, (with plastic pot collars and small stakes so that they wouldn’t be bullied by neighbouring thalictrum and calamagrostis) and then – it’s poured with rain solidly for two days. I haven’t dared go out there and see if they’ve survived. I saw them on display at the T&M Press Open Day show ground at Hyde Hall last summer and absolutely fell in love with them. You never see them as cultivated plants for sale so I guess this is the only way forward, fingers crossed.

When I do take a moment to enjoy the garden, it’s the roses that are taking my breath away. Rosa For Your Eyes Only has so many blooms it resembles the eyes in a peacock’s feather. I’m so enamoured with it that I’ve JUST HAD to buy its sister Eye Of The Tiger, which I’ve incorporated into the vibrant corner of the garden, red and yellow (most hated colour combination by my erstwhile embroidery teacher) with magenta echinacea purpurea, rouge lobelia Queen Victoria, (ooh, get me!) purple loosestrife. It’ll either look stunning or hideous, time will tell.

Breathtaking Rosa For Your Eyes Only

© Caroline Bloom – Breathtaking Rosa For Your Eyes Only

It seems slightly aimless not to be opening our garden for charity this summer, but oh the joy of not having to check the weather forecast every ten minutes, not to have to second guess which plants will be in flower and which will be over On The Day. In fact, I’ve had to wind my neck in a few times, not to be so goal orientated. I bet the plants are heaving a sigh of relief!

But it’s not all bucolic bliss. There’s the small matter of Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society Open Gardens Day for The National Garden Scheme. (Take a breath!) I may not be opening my garden, but as Assistant County Organiser for the Suburb, I’m responsible for 14 gardens, 4 of them new, and one allotment, all doing the honours for charity on Sunday 7th July. A village style opening in the heart of London. Oh, I could wax lyrical, but for full details please follow this link: https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/garden/18140/

Catch up with you all later……..Caroline

Beyond the Pail

Seriously? It’s April already? How did that happen! (If that’s rhetorical, does it need a question mark?) It’s all systems go here. David and I are Going For It big time: NEW sculpture focal point, NEW rill feature, NEW rose arch. And NEW hanging baskets – no more wicker, gone off rustic – and in their place, vintage galvanized buckets. We’ve even got one for the cats to lie in. More of that later…

Caroline's new rose arch, feature and focal point

Caroline’s new rose arch, feature and focal point
© Caroline Broome

In-between bouts of furious activity in the garden, we’ve been out and about too. (New Year’s Resolution: Get Out More). In March we visited Kew Gardens to see the orchid exhibition, and even though I’m not a fan of orchids I thoroughly enjoyed it. Such bold displays of colour and theatre that I even managed to get from one end of the hot house to the other without having a panic attack and running out! (Memories of Eden Project tropical biome.) There was one orchid that was so intensely turquoise blue that I had to touch it to make sure it was real. (Get a grip girl, it’s hardly likely to be plastic, is it, it’s KEW GARDENS!) Bumped into our esteemed Hort Soc Chair, Doc Page with family and friends; clearly not a good location for a secret rendezvous!

Stunning displays at the Kew Gardens Orchid Exhibition

Stunning displays at the Kew Gardens Orchid Exhibition
© Caroline Broome

Last weekend we joined friends H & N at their lodge in Belton Woods, Lincolnshire, for a couple of days of R&R. An amble through the ash woodland revealed a cathedral of towering trees, their branches stretching up towards the cloudless sky. At the edge of the woods we saw a small herd of Sika deer. Oh, the peace and quiet; I could get used to this!

A catherdral of trees

A cathedral of trees
© Caroline Broome

Spurred on by all these bucolic influences it was straight back outside on our return, to start planting out. I was surprised to find myself slightly daunted by quite large patches of bare soil (more than 1m² I consider extensive in our garden) that I created by lifting loads of perennials last autumn. But gradually they are all being replanted in a more balanced design, with plenty of room still to spare for new ones of course.

At a recent horticultural club where I was presenting a PowerPoint presentation of The Evolution of Caro’s Garden, I was asked what my favourite plant was. And, like so many other gardeners, I answered, “the one that’s in flower right now.” Which is brunnera. I’m building up quite a collection with no thought whatsoever of where I will accommodate them. Brunnera Hadspens Cream is my latest acquisition, and my T&M trial ‘Alexander’s Great’ from a couple of years ago is certainly living up to its name!

Having derided wicker hanging baskets in our recent Hort Soc newsletter, I felt it would be churlish of me not to put my money where my mouth is, so all nine of them have been swapped for vintage galvanised buckets, purchased through a certain auction website. Once we’d entertained ourselves with humorous quips such as, Kicking the Bucket and Beyond the Pail, David got down to work drilling drainage holes, adjusting brackets and fixing chains, before I replanted all my cherished hostas, ready for the addition of colourful T&M plug plants, which are arriving by the minute.

Brunnera 'Alexander's Great' and Caroline's new hanging baskets

Brunnera ‘Alexander’s Great’ and Caroline’s new hanging baskets
© Caroline Broome

Talking of which, every day is like Christmas, anticipating the arrival of new plugs: so far Nasturtium ‘Orchid Flame’, Begonia ‘Buffey’ & Begonia ‘Sweet Spice Bounty Coral’. Petunias next. Grown from seed, Tomato ‘Sweetest Duo’ aka. ‘Sungold’ & ‘Sweet Aperitif’, Tomato ‘Sweet Cherry’ and Cucumber ‘Mini Munch’ all have their first true leaves, and even one or two tiny seedlings of Nicotiana langsdorffii (much admired at last Summer’s T&M Press Open Day) have managed to survive thus far! Ricinis communis and Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’ seedlings, the easiest to grow, are well established now.

Mind you, the mad dash to the greenhouse to open the door and switch the propagators off before work, followed by the inevitable nocturnal dive to shut the door and switch the propagators back on overnight, is fraught with tension (quel domage, that should be one’s greatest worry in life, n’est-ce pas?).

Even going away for two nights was touch and go! Should I cover them with cloches, but they might bake to death; should I leave them uncovered, but they might wither from damping off. Shows you what my priorities are: as soon as we arrived home, a quick grovel to the cats, begging for forgiveness for leaving them, and then straight up to the greenhouse – to find all seedlings fine and dandy. Phew!

But what of the cats? Our covered patio, or Catatorium, was specifically designed for feline frolics in an outside space without risk of injury to the cats themselves or the wildlife beyond. Hence all the shelves and tunnels. The large wicker hanging basket was never meant for them, we just hung it up one day pending planting and Fred got in, and the rest as they say, is history. So the hunt was on for a galvanised replacement, big enough to accommodate two cats, after all, he’s got to have a double bed for him and his new bride, Ethel. And as luck would have it we found the very thing in Belton Wood Garden Centre, a 15” pail.

Caroline's cats, Fred and Ethel

Caroline’s cats, Fred and Ethel
© Caroline Broome

As time marches on plans for this summer’s National Garden Scheme Open Gardens is well under way. In July (Sunday 7th to be exact, put it in your diaries,) our Hort Soc is holding its second NGS Group Open Garden Day in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Our first suburb group open day in 2017 was such a rip roaring success that everybody wants to join in now, so we’ve ended up with 14 gardens (4 new) and 1 allotment, making this group possibly the largest in the UK for NGS. No pressure then!

So as dear old Arnold Schwarzenegger would say, “I’ll be back”. Can’t picture him pottering around in the garden though…

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