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Cape crusaders – the new phygelius

Phygelius 'Candy Drops Ivory', 'CandyDrops Red' and 'CandyDrops Deep Rose'. Images ©Howard Rice
Guest post
Ian Hodgson, Editor of the Royal Horticultural Society's membership magazine The Garden for eighteen years, reports on cutting edge breeding of Phygelius (Cape Fuchsia).

It’s gratifying to find someone seeing potential in breeding an established garden plant in a new and exciting way. For a small scale breeder it's doubly challenging as it's difficult to create consumer demand when the audience hasn’t seen the plants or get buy-in from the supply chain, particularly during a recession when few growers and distributors are willing to gamble.

British plant breeder David Kerley, who has forged a sizeable international reputation with his Tumbelina and other petunias (Graham wrote them up two years ago), has been busy since 2000 perfecting the Phygelius CandyDrops Series for use in containers. On a recent visit to his nursery near Cambridge I saw a range of Phygelius (Cape Fuchsia) that stand out from the crowd and yet retain their own individual character.

I'm sure there's a need for a compact range of summer flowering container plants like these Phygelius. Phygelius, CandyDrops Tangerine. Image ©Howard RiceSummer containers often run out of steam after the main flush of flower is over and garden centres are have few container plants to put in front of people at that stage of the summer. The CandyDrops Series, which produce flushes of flowers through summer to the first frosts of autumn, could fill the gap.

David began with the most distinctive of the existing cultivars raised from crossing P. aequalis with P. capensis; these included ‘Salmon Leap’, ‘African Queen’, ‘Trewidden Pink’, ‘Devils Tears’, ‘Winchester Fanfare’ and ‘Yellow Trumpet’. Then he made his own crosses and looked for earliness and continuity of  flowering, tufted growth habit, compactness and distinctive flower colour in his seedlings. The result is the CandyDrops Series, in nine colours to date: cream, deep rose, ivory, peach, purple, red, salmon-orange, and tangerine (right, click to enlarge) plus the yellow-leaved ‘Midas Touch’, with reddish-purple flowers.

Standout cultivars for me were ‘CandyDrops Ivory’, ‘CandyDrops Red’ and  ‘CandyDrops Deep Rose’ (all above, click to enlarge) all of which have the genetic traits of the series, yet exhibit their own individuality. The cool creamy-white semi-pendant flowers of ‘CandyDrops Ivory’ are held on a compact plant that retained great poise and elegance. It would really stand out against a shaded back-drop and would be good either on its own or in mixed plantings. I love it.

Phygelius, 'CandyDrops Red. Image ©Howard Rice ‘CandyDrops Red’ (left, click to enlarge) has glowing flowers which are more compact, combined with a good tufted habit making for a plant with broad appeal. ‘CandyDrops Deep Rose’ is quite different. The outside of the flower tube is a lovely diffuse lilac-purple set off with purple petals and yellow throat. It would look good where it can be admired from below such as atop a low wall, in a taller container or larger hanging basket. In the novelty stakes ‘Midas Touch’ has golden foliage and red flowers – a striking combination.

They would also make striking plants for the middle or front of a summer border, but David has not tried them for this purpose and so has not evaluated the degree to which they might produce irritating suckers. These plants deserve wider recognition by the trade and if tested in open ground and among other plantings I think their potential could embrace wider garden use as well as the containers they were initially bred for.

In Britain Two colours in the series are currently available by mail order from Victoriana Nursery Gardens. Expect to see the CandyDrops Series in garden centres, and listed by other mail order suppliers, next year. Commercial growers and propagators should contact David Kerley.

In North America The CandyDrops Series is not yet available in garden centres and nurseries, look out for them next spring. Four colours in the series are being grown and distributed to nurseries and garden centres by Skagit Gardens.

Graham adds: These phygelius are rated zone 8 for North America, but I’m confident they’d be OK in zone 7. Other varieties survive some winters here in PA in zone 5, but not others.

Ian Hodgson was Editor of The Garden for 18 years and Editor-in-Chief of RHS Journals. He is now a freelance garden writer, editor and horticultural consultant.

All photos are ©Howard Rice. Thank you.