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Plant of the Month August 2017


Phygelius Display

If you were to visit my mother's garden in Lancashire, you would possibly be dazzled by her collection of Fuchsias. Dancing away through the summer months in baskets, pots, tiered up the walls and even as cuttings rooting on the thin edges of her glasshouse bench, (her secret involves wet floors and damp newspaper) they are everywhere. Once your eyes had adjusted and your senses regained you might just notice the more delicate false cousin, Phygelius or 'Cape Fuchsia' smartly grouped together in a planter, just around the corner.

Phygelius the 'Cape Fuchsia' in the Scrophulariaceae family, is a fabulous but still underused garden plant. As the common name suggests it resembles the well known Fuchsia with long tubular pendant flowers and similar foliage. However they are not closely related, stemming from different plant families. Phygelius are hardy evergreen shrubs but usually get treated as herbaceous perennials in the garden. In the wild there are only two species, both native to Southern Africa where they can be found growing on wet slopes or close to water courses. Since being first introduced into cultivation, plant breeders have created numerous hybrids and cultivars, many of which can now be seen in local garden centres and DIY stores.

L-R 'Ivory', 'African Queen', 'Cream' and 'Deep Pink' 

A great addition to any garden, Phygelius are now becoming more popular as gardeners become familiar with them. Easy to grow, they have a long flowering season and require very little maintenance. They are not fussy and will flourish in full sun or partial shade, but do prefer free draining soils, especially in the winter months. If planted in the right place, they will give you months of pleasure each year, and applying an annual top dressing of garden compost or well rotted manure will help feed the plants as well as help retain moisture during the summer months.

Phygelius (Candy Drops) 'Ivory'

Phygelius 'African Queen'

Phygelius (Candy Drops) 'Cream'

Phygelius (Candy Drops) 'Deep Pink'

Not only great for borders, Phygelius are also excellent for containers adding both structure and a blaze of warm colour. To help keep the plants in flower from late May to first frosts, continually dead head as soon each flower spike has gone over to prevent the plants losing energy to seed production. Depending on growing conditions they usually reach a height and spread of around 50cm. Pruning can be carried out in late spring once new growth begins, alternatively if the plants are getting too large for the space, they can withstand a moderate to hard pruning anytime within the growing season. Usually pest and disease free apart from the odd aphid attack in late spring.

Phygelius foliage

Phygelius are generally very easy to propagate, take tip cuttings any time from May-October, just below a node, either soft wood or semi-ripe that are 10cm long. Remove the lower two thirds of leaves from each cutting, then use a dibber to create holes about 2cm deep and place the cuttings into these holes and firm in using finger tips. Cuttings can be placed in a 7cm pot with a mix of coir and perlite, at the general propagation mix of 70:30. Once pots have been soaked in a tray, they can sit in a propagator or have a plastic bag sealed over the top. Rooting will normally occur within 3 weeks.

Phygelius 'Salmon Leap'

If Fuchsias are too sugary or tender for your taste, it may be well worth seeking out Phygelius for an elegant, hardy and vibrant alternative. 

Andrew Luke Posted by Andrew Luke

Andrew Luke is Head Gardener at Wrest Park (English Heritage). He can be contacted on twitter @PlantGrafter

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