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Fuchsias: Rethinking Grandma’s Flowers

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Fuchsias: Rethinking Grandma’s Flowers

July 1, 2017

Fuchsias in hanging glass terrariums? It’s an idea I couldn’t imagine when I was growing up next to a neighbor who was an older woman whom I considered to be my surrogate grandma. In her garden she had a large “old-fashioned” fuchsia bush. Before entering her house to tinker with her massive piano organ, I would stop to say hello to the fuchsia—and to squeeze the air-filled blossoms. I loved that plant for its flamboyant two-toned colors, for the satisfying “pop” sound the flowers made, and because it bloomed all. the. time.

Nowadays, there is no reason to think of fuchsias as a grandmotherly plant. Thanks to cross breeding and plant hybridization, the selection of fuchsias has grown to include varieties with delicate flowers that dangle like ornaments and two-toned leaves that look dip dyed. With each new fuchsia, my love has only grown.

Read on to see how we persuaded a few fuchsias to try life as houseplants, in hanging glass ball terrariums:

Photography by Mimi Giboin for Gardenista.

Fuchsia &#8
Above: Fuchsia ‘Golden Gypsy’ is a long-blooming, 18-inch-high, shade-loving variety with a breathtaking color combination of chartreuse leaves, reddish stems, and two-toned purple flowers. Plant this hummingbird magnet alongside colorful coleus in a container for a stunning combination.

Fuchsia takes its name from the 16th-century German botanist Leonhart Fuchs although he was not the first European to discover the species. (After he found fuchsias growing in the Caribbean, Father John Plumier-a French Catholic priest-attempted to send specimens home but all were lost when his ship sank in a storm.) Luckily, more species were collected later from the plants’ native region (Mexico to South America), and by the Victorian era fuchsia adoration was rampant.

Fuchsia &#8
Above: Fuchsia ‘Autumnale’ is one of my favorites for its stunning leaves flushed with orange, pink, and gold. This shady semi-trailing fuchsia is more about the foliage than flowers, and is considered to be an annual. Pair this with amber-toned heucheras and autumn ferns for a fall-inspired container design.

Fuchsia triphylla and others were the first to become popular in Europe but others quickly got noticed. After Europeans arrived in North America, the flower gained popularity in regions north of its native Mexico. Speaking locally on the West Coast, fuchsias became increasingly admired because of our mild winters and the ability for the flower to thrive and survive here.

Fuchsia thymifolia has delicate, lacy foliage, and teardrop flowers. Using a borosilicate glass Filtering Funnel($6.75 from Syringa Lab Supplies), we added enough water to a glass ball terrarium to moisten the plant&#8
Above: Fuchsia thymifolia has delicate, lacy foliage, and teardrop flowers. Using a borosilicate glass Filtering Funnel($6.75 from Syringa Lab Supplies), we added enough water to a glass ball terrarium to moisten the plant’s roots thoroughly.
In England and Europe, fuchsia adoration unfortunately plummeted because of two world wars. Economic struggle, battles, and the need to grow food over flowers unfortunately set back the species and other ornamental flowers in the early 20th century.

Fuchsia thymifolia &#8
Above: Fuchsia thymifolia ‘Variegata’ has two-toned leaves. This is an upright shrub, growing to a height of from 4 to 5 feet. It likes a partly shady spot with regular water. Frost hardy to 25 degrees, it has dangling rose-pink flowers in the summer months and pairs well with hydrangeas and azaleas.

In 1930, representatives from the new American Fuchsia Society traveled to Europe to collect hybrid fuchsias. The collection was divided between Berkeley Horticulture Nursery and the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley. And here’s something interesting: when fuchsias began to be bred in America, flower size was intentionally increased—not surprisingly. And because we believe bigger is better here, popularity rose again and hardier breeds were developed.

A 7-inch flat bottom Clear Hanging Glass Ball Terrarium is $loading=
Above: A 7-inch flat bottom Clear Hanging Glass Ball Terrarium is $12.99 from Save on Crafts. A smaller, 4-inch Hanging Glass Terrarium is $4.99.
Disaster struck fuchsias again in the early 1980s. In 1981 a small gall mite from South America invaded and infested the susceptible fuchsias. Devoted fuchsia collectors attempted to control the disease but found it futile and destroyed their affected collections. The situation looked bleak until growers determined which types were mite resistant and began cross breeding those varieties. Now there is a large collection of mite-resistant fuchsias to choose from and it is easier to love fuchsias again.

We hung our terrariums from loops of leather cord; a
Above: We hung our terrariums from loops of leather cord; a 2-yard pack of Suede Leather Cord is $5.49 from Joann Fabric.
There is no doubt that fuchsias make amazing hanging basket fillers, but they also make fabulous container plants and additions to perennial beds. You will be rewarded with flowers that parachute off stems all summer long.

A simple leather loop holds a hanging glass ball terrarium.
Above: A simple leather loop holds a hanging glass ball terrarium.

Why You Should Grow Fuchsias

  • Fuchsias are a true hummingbird magnet, plus butterflies and bees seem to equally adore the bounty of colorful blossoms.
  • They thrive in all degrees of shady conditions, but prefer full morning sun for best bloom production.
  • Fuchsias bloom continuously from spring to fall, especially if you routinely dead head. Also most bloom on current season’s growth so pruning in the spring is needed.
  • Lovely on their own in a container, or stunning partnered with complementary colors, fuchsias are happy companions in the garden. Try a container filled with fuchsias, angel wing begonias, heucheras, and oxalis.
  • Care is relatively simple: fuchsia likes humidity and moist soil. Fuchsias are actually perennials but they are cold sensitive and in some areas grown as annuals. The fact that they are usually sold in the disposable annuals section of nurseries is misleading to gardeners.
Fuchsias in glass terrarium balls.
Above: Fuchsias in glass terrarium balls.

Another of my favorites is Fuchsia ‘Gartemeister Bonstedt’: orange red long tubes appear on dark bronze leave and stems that can happily grow to 36 inches. This vigorous upright and undemanding shrub takes the heat better than other varieties.

N.B.: For more ways we’re Rethinking Flowers, see our earlier posts about:

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