Phygelius aequalis hybrids
The nectar-rich ‑flowers of these charming indigenous plants attract sunbirds whilst lending a splash of colour to the garden over a protracted period.
There are two species of Phygelius that are endemic to South Africa, P. capensis and P. aequalis, both of which are also known by the common names of ‘river bell’ or ‘wild fuchsia’. They are evergreen shrubs or sub-shrubs that grow in moist soils along stream banks and watercourses in many areas in the eastern parts of the country. Many named hybrids now grace gardens around the globe with their pendulous, tubular ‑ flowers in an array of colours. The new hybrids available in local nurseries and garden centres include ‘Coral Princess’ – salmon ‑ flowers with a pale yellow throat; ‘Purple Princess’ – mauve to purple ‑ flowers; ‘Snow Princess’ – white ‑ flowers with a creamy throat and ‘Yellow Sovereign’ – pale yellow blooms. These four are protected by plant breeder’s rights and may not be propagated without the necessary permission from the local agent.
The multi-branched shrubs have woody stems at the base, topped with glossy green leaves in opposite pairs, some with serrated or toothed margins. The infl‑orescences are borne in large terminal panicles and comprise of many individual tubular ‑ flowers, 30 to 40 mm in length. They are produced from late spring through summer and into early autumn, an extended ‑ flowering season. Mature plants attain a height of a little over a metre and can spread widely by means of suckers growing out from the roots. Dead heading of spent ‑ flowers prolongs the blooming period and keeps the plants looking neat and tidy. Cutting scraggly or woody growth down to ground level in spring encourages vigorous new growth for the growing season.
Phygelius hybrids grow best in a sunny or slightly shaded position in rich, fertile soils that remain damp for most of the year. From spring to autumn regular applications of a general garden fertiliser that is rich in potassium keeps the plants in peak health and ensures a continuous display of blooms. In drier regions a thick layer of mulch around the base of the plants helps to keep the root zone moist. Plant these versatile, relatively easy to grow plants in herbaceous borders, close to ponds, streams and water features, or simply use them in mixed shrub plantings. They are attractive additions to indigenous gardens.