Gardening: Cape of good looks

HOME COMFORTS: The cape fuchsia is quite happy growing in the UK.
HOME COMFORTS: The cape fuchsia is quite happy growing in the UK.
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This visitor from South Africa has adapted well to life in Britain. David Overend reports.

The cape fuchsia is an incomer to this country but it has settled down quite nicely throughout the UK.

So much so that in some mild areas where it has the backing of a warm wall, it has become an evergreen flowering shrub, obviously not missing its natural home thousands of miles away in South Africa.

Where winters come calling – Yorkshire being a regular stopping-off point for ice and snow – Phygelius (to give it its Latin name) can still grows strongly, although it does best when it’s treated as an evergreen perennial; come April, and it is quite happy to be hacked down to the ground before the new growing seasons really gets under way.

However you treat this eye-catching plant there is no doubt that it has become a firm favourite among the bed- and-borders brigade who value it for its numerous panicles of tubular blooms and its ability to go on producing them from June through till the first early frosts of September.

There are several varieties readily available, with yellow tending to be the dominant colour.

P aequilis ‘Yellow Trumpet’ is probably the favourite, thanks to its long, pendulous pale-yellow flowers that appear in their hundreds.

It blooms throughout the summer and can spread by means of underground runners to become a substantial shrub up to three feet in height. If that sounds just bit too big or a bit too aggressive, grow it in a container in a sunny spot.

Plants tend to form a woody base and should be pruned back to just a few inches or so each spring.

Anyone with an aversion to yellow can always look to P capensis ‘Coccineus’, a taller-growing plant whose blooms are vivid red with yellow throats. It’s evergreen and should thrive in a well-drained soil and a decent amount of sun in a sheltered site.

Meanwhile, P rectus ‘Winchester Fanfare’ produces masses of reddish-pink tubular flowers with scarlet lobes on tall, candelabra-like stems from summer through until early autumn.

Cape fuchsias are relatively untroubled by pests and diseases although capsid bugs can show an interest. Normally, they cause only minimal damage. If plants start to suffer, spray with a proprietary pesticide and clear away any fallen leaves to discourage further infestations.